The long-term risk of premature mortality in people with epilepsy

Brain. 2011 Feb;134(Pt 2):388-95. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq378.


People with epilepsy have an increased risk of premature death. The risk is highest soon after onset of seizures. We report the findings of a long-term follow-up population-based study of people with epilepsy with regards to premature mortality. The National General Practice Study of Epilepsy is a prospective study flagged at the National Health Service Information Centre in the UK. Over 1000 people with new onset seizures were followed from the mid 1980s until April 2009. Of these, 564 people were classified at 6 months as having definite epileptic seizures, 228 as having possible epileptic seizures and 220 as having febrile seizures. The remainder were excluded (n=104 because of an unknown prior diagnosis of epilepsy or neonatal seizures) or classified as not having epilepsy (n=79). At median follow-up of 22.8 years there had been 301 deaths in the cohort; 300 of these were in people with definite or possible seizures. Death certificates were obtained for all but three of those who died. The overall standardized mortality ratio for those with definite or possible epilepsy was 2.2 (95% confidence interval 1.97-2.47), and was higher in those with definite seizures (2.6). In those who were alive at 20 years follow-up, the standardized mortality ratio in the subsequent years remained significantly elevated (2.2, 95% confidence interval 1.6-3.2). Pneumonia (standardized mortality ratio 6.6, 95% confidence incidence 5.1, 8.4) was a common cause of death with a consistently elevated standardized mortality ratio throughout follow-up. The standardized mortality ratio for ischaemic heart disease was significantly elevated for the first time in the last 5 years of follow-up (3.3, 95% confidence interval 1.6-7.0). Few people died from epilepsy-related causes. The risk of premature death remains significantly elevated at 20-25 years after the index seizure despite most of the cohort being in terminal remission (defined as 5 years or more seizure-free, on or off anti-epileptic medication) at the last follow-up. Further studies are needed to explore the reasons for this long-term increase in premature mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Distribution
  • Cause of Death
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology
  • Epilepsy / mortality*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mortality
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Seizures, Febrile / complications
  • Seizures, Febrile / epidemiology
  • Seizures, Febrile / mortality*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology