According to a new study, people with epilepsy in England and Wales are at an increased risk of dying from suicide and accidents. This is compared to people without epilepsy in these areas.
Study author Dr Hayley Gorton explained that the risk of these types of deaths is still generally low in people with epilepsy (0.3-0.5%). But it is increased in comparison to people without the condition.
The study was carried out by the University of Manchester and Swansea University. It is published in the journal JAMA Neurology. It looked at over 900,000 people in England (44,678 with epilepsy) and nearly 300,000 people in Wales (14,051 with epilepsy).
The findings showed that people with epilepsy are twice as likely to die by suicide as people without epilepsy. They also found that people with epilepsy are three times more likely to die because of an accident.
Overdosing on medicines, either by accident or on purpose, was a major cause of death mentioned in the study. People with epilepsy were more likely to die because of overdoses than people without. This was most commonly on painkillers or medicines for mental health conditions, rather than epilepsy medicines.
Dr Gorton said: “Though unnatural death occurs rarely among all groups in the population, people with epilepsy are almost three times more likely to die from any unnatural cause than those without the condition.
“However, the direct causes of these increased mortality risks are not yet fully understood.
“Because of these risks, it’s important that people with epilepsy are adequately warned so they can take measures to prevent accidents. We urge clinicians to advise their patients about unintentional injury prevention and monitor them for suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
Managing risks and getting support
Epilepsy Action’s chief executive, Philip Lee, said: “This new report urgently highlights the ever-present risks for many people living with epilepsy. Our website epilepsy.org.uk/info has practical advice and information for those affected and who are concerned about managing their risks. They can also call the Epilepsy Action Helpline on Freephone 0808 800 5050 or email email@example.com
“This is an important study which prompts the need for more research into why people with epilepsy in particular are so at risk. We need to know what causes such high levels of suicide and accidental death.
“Self-care is hugely important but some people need much more tailored guidance to help manage their seizures. Emotional wellbeing is also vital.
“The paper raises further questions about the underlying issue of mental health, which we know can be directly impacted when someone is living with epilepsy.
“While the condition varies from person to person, isolation, deprivation, stigma and lack of support services are recurring factors which we hear about on a daily basis. We will therefore support any further studies into this area and ways we can work together to improve the lives of people with epilepsy.”
There is more information on safety and mental health on the Epilepsy Action website. You can also speak to the Epilepsy Action helpline by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling Freephone 0808 800 5050.
You can also speak to SUDEP Action by calling 01235 772 850 or through their website: sudep.org. You can reach the Samaritans by calling 116 123 or on their website at: samaritans.org. They offer 24-hour confidential emotional support for people who are having feelings of distress or despair, including thinking about suicide.
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Public Health England (PHE) has found that death rates in people with epilepsy have risen by 70% between 2001 and 2014. This is compared to a 6% drop in deaths overall over that period.