Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) has an incidence ranging between 0.09 and 9 per 1000 patient-years depending on the patient population and the study methodology. It is the commonest cause of death directly attributable to epilepsy, and occurs at or around the time of a seizure. The principal risk factor for SUDEP is poorly controlled generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Other risk factors include polytherapy, male sex, early age at onset of epilepsy, symptomatic etiology, and, possibly, treatment with lamotrigine. The mechanisms underlying SUDEP are poorly understood, but autonomic dysfunction, central apnea, cerebral depression, and cardiac arrthymias have all been described in animal models of SUDEP and during human seizures. Prevention of this fatal event should be aimed at optimizing control of seizures, including prompt referral for consideration of epilepsy surgery. All patients should be told about the risks of SUDEP and informed that complete seizure control appears to be the one proven way of preventing the phenomenon.
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