Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) refers to the sudden death of a seemingly healthy individual with epilepsy, usually occurring during, or immediately after, a tonic-clonic seizure. The frequency of SUDEP varies depending on the severity of the epilepsy, but overall the risk of sudden death is more than 20 times higher than that in the general population. Several different mechanisms probably exist, and most research has focused on seizure-related respiratory depression, cardiac arrhythmia, cerebral depression, and autonomic dysfunction. Data from a pooled analysis of risk factors indicate that the higher the frequency of tonic-clonic seizures, the higher the risk of SUDEP; furthermore, risk of SUDEP is also elevated in male patients, patients with long-duration epilepsy, and those on antiepileptic polytherapy. SUDEP usually occurs when the seizures are not witnessed and often at night. In this Seminar, we provide advice to clinicians on ways to minimise the risk of SUDEP, information to pass on to patients, and medicolegal aspects of these deaths.
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