Three-quarters of epilepsy deaths in Scotland could be avoided, study shows

Three-quarters of epilepsy-related fatalities across Scotland could be prevented, a study has shown.

Epilepsy is a common condition that affects the brain and causes frequent seizures.

It is associated with a risk of premature death, which can be caused by epilepsy itself or its complications.

Experts from the Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre at the University of Edinburgh said up to 76% of deaths caused by the condition in Scotland are probably preventable.

They said the majority of these fatalities are linked to people between the ages of 16 and 54 not receiving neurology care after an epilepsy-related hospital admission, and could therefore be preventable.

The team identified that people with the condition in this age group were twice as likely to die prematurely than the population at large.

Researchers also noted that 62 per cent of those who died had been admitted to hospital for seizures in the years prior to their deaths, yet only 27 per cent were referred for expert assessment at an epilepsy clinic.

Poorly controlled epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, and narcotic and alcohol addiction were cited as causes of avoidable deaths, the report said.

Dr Susan Duncan (pictured), honorary clinical senior lecturer at Muir Maxwell Epilepsy Centre and University of Edinburgh, said: “Twenty years ago a UK-wide audit of epilepsy deaths raised concerns about the standard of care adults with epilepsy received.

“Our study shows premature mortality in adults with epilepsy has not decreased since that study, suggesting that either the standard of care has not improved, or preventable deaths are still occurring despite improvements.

“Thus an up-to-date audit of epilepsy care is urgently needed, along with parallel studies to make clear the mechanisms underlying epilepsy-related deaths.”

For the report, researchers reviewed medical records and used the community health index number (CHI) – a unique marker assigned to everyone living in Scotland registered with the NHS – to identify all epilepsy-related deaths over a seven-year period.

The databases contain information about hospital admissions, A&E attendances, drug prescriptions, and death certificates.

The team identified 1,921 deaths linked with epilepsy, with a significant number of these coming from the most socially deprived areas of Scotland.

Data collected from 100 GP practices on patients who had not attended hospital for treatment of their epilepsy showed that half of the cases had mental health issues.

Those leading the report said they hope their findings will prompt the development of an epilepsy mortality register to better understand the causes of premature death in people with the condition.

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