Epileptics ten times more likely to die early

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People with epilepsy are ten times more likely to die early compared with the rest of the population, research shows.

The findings, published in the Lancet, revealed a “striking” correlation between dying before their mid-fifties and mental illness in patients with epilepsy.

These patients were four times more likely to have received a psychiatric diagnosis in their lifetime compared with the general population.

The figures are considerably higher than previously thought and experts said they had important implications for the management of epilepsy.

Researchers at the University of Oxford and Karolinska Institute in Sweden studied 69,995 people with epilepsy born in Sweden between 1954 and 2009 and followed up over 41 years.

They compared mortality and cause of death information from these patients with 660,869 people from the general population.

During the study almost 9 per cent of people with epilepsy died compared with less than 1 per cent of people from the general population.

The most important cause of death in people with epilepsy that was not clearly related to the underlying disease was death by external causes, such as accident or suicide, accounting for almost 16 per cent of deaths.

Three quarters of these deaths were among patients who also had a psychiatric diagnosis.

Although suicide and deaths from accidents were still relatively rare, the odds of a person with epilepsy taking their own life during the study were four times higher than the general population and there was a strong link with mental illness and substance abuse.

Lead researcher Dr Seena Fazel said: “Improving the identification, monitoring and treatment of psychiatric problems in epilepsy patients could make an important contribution to reducing the risk of premature death that we’re currently seeing in these patients.”