S.F. Greenlund, J.B. Croft, R. Kobau. Epilepsy & Behavior, 69(2017):28-30.


Death in people with epilepsy was rarely talked about until recent years. We knew it happened, but didn’t have good data to tell us how often people with epilepsy may die and why.

Knowing this information helps us better understand the seriousness of epilepsy and that it can be a lethal disease for some people. It also can help us learn who may be at greatest risk and how to prevent people with epilepsy from dying early and unexpectedly.

Description of Study

This study used a database from the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention (called Wide-ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research or WONDER) to look at deaths when epilepsy was listed from 2005 to 2014. Information was collected on age, sex, and race/ethnicity.

Usually, reports of death may list many possible causes. This study looked at when epilepsy was listed as the main cause compared to any listed cause (or one of many possible causes).

Summary of Study Findings

Epilepsy as any listed cause happened in:

  • 54% of all deaths with epilepsy in 2005
  • 43% of all deaths with epilepsy in 2014
  • The numbers increased in older age groups

When adjusted for differences in age:

  • Epilepsy as any listed cause of death increased by 47% from 2005 to 2014.
  • The increased rates were seen across all ages and in both males and females.
  • Rates of death were signitificantly higher in non-Hispanic blacks than for people of other race/ethnicity.

Epilepsy as the underlying cause of death:

  • Also increased from 2005 to 2014
  • These increases were seen most in people aged 24 years or younger and 85 years or older and in non-Hispanic whites.

What does this mean?

  • This data stresses that epilepsy is a serious health problem for more people than previously thought and the numbers have increased since 2005.
  • It’s also possible that death due to epilepsy occurs more often than we know of and may not be recorded. Also this study only tracked epilepsy by using certain codes and didn’t capture all terms used to track epilepsy.
  • While its difficult to talk about risks and things that can go wrong if you have epilepsy – it’s crucial that we do talk about it!
  • People with epilepsy and their families need to ask questions of their health care team about their risks. Knowing these risks could help people get the care they need and lead to ways to prevent seizures.

Article published in Epilepsy & Behavior, April 2017.

Authored By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Authored Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Joseph I. Sirven MD
Tuesday, April 11, 2017