Epilepsy-related mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic: A nationwide study of routine Scottish data

Seizure. 2023 Aug:110:160-168. doi: 10.1016/j.seizure.2023.06.010. Epub 2023 Jun 11.


Objective: To examine whether epilepsy-related deaths increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and if the proportion with COVID-19 listed as the underlying cause is different between people experiencing epilepsy-related deaths and those experiencing deaths unrelated to epilepsy.

Methods: This was a Scotland-wide, population-based, cross-sectional study of routinely-collected mortality data pertaining to March-August of 2020 (COVID-19 pandemic peak) compared to the corresponding periods in 2015-2019. ICD-10-coded causes of death of deceased people of any age were obtained from a national mortality registry of death certificates in order to identify those experiencing epilepsy-related deaths (coded G40-41), deaths with COVID-19 listed as a cause (coded U07.1-07.2), and deaths unrelated to epilepsy (death without G40-41 coded). The number of epilepsy-related deaths in 2020 were compared to the mean observed through 2015-2019 on an autoregressive integrated moving average (ARIMA) model (overall, men, women). Proportionate mortality and odds ratios (OR) for deaths with COVID-19 listed as the underlying cause were determined for the epilepsy-related deaths compared to deaths unrelated to epilepsy, reporting 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: A mean number of 164 epilepsy-related deaths occurred through March-August of 2015-2019 (of which a mean of 71 were in women and 93 in men). There were subsequently 189 epilepsy-related deaths during the pandemic March-August 2020 (89 women, 100 men). This was 25 more epilepsy-related deaths (18 women, 7 men) compared to the mean through 2015-2019. The increase in women was beyond the mean year-to-year variation seen in 2015-2019. Proportionate mortality with COVID-19 listed as the underlying cause was similar between people experiencing epilepsy-related deaths (21/189, 11.1%, CI 7.0-16.5%) and deaths unrelated to epilepsy (3,879/27,428, 14.1%, CI 13.7-14.6%), OR 0.76 (CI 0.48-1.20). Ten of 18 excess epilepsy-related deaths in women had COVID-19 listed as an additional cause.

Conclusions: There is little evidence to suggest there have been any major increases in epilepsy-related deaths in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is a common underlying cause of both epilepsy-related and unrelated deaths.

Keywords: Administrative data; Coronavirus disease 2019; Fatality; SUDEP; Seizures; Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epilepsy* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Scotland / epidemiology