Unexpected, unexplained death in epileptic patients

Neurology. 1975 Jun;25(6):594-8. doi: 10.1212/wnl.25.6.594.


Thirty-seven cases of unexpected, unexplained death in epileptic patients were recorded by the Allegheny County Coroner's Office during the years 1969 through 1973. In no case was there anatomic or chemical evidence at autopsy sufficient to explain death. All patients had a duration of epilepsy greater than a year. All but two had less than one seizure per month. Blood levels of anticonvulsants at autopsy revealed only three patients with therapeutic levels of the drugs. Almost 50 percent of the cases studied had no demonstrable anticonvulsant. It is suggested that inadequate levels of anticonvulsant drugs are a significant factor associated with unexpected, unexplained death in epileptic patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenobarbital / blood
  • Phenobarbital / therapeutic use
  • Phenytoin / blood
  • Phenytoin / therapeutic use


  • Phenytoin
  • Phenobarbital