Medical risks in epilepsy: A review with focus on physical injuries, mortality, traffic accidents and their prevention

Torbjörn Tomson, Ettore Beghi, Anders Sundqvist, Svein I. Johannessen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present review aims at highlighting selective aspects of the medical risks in epilepsy and their prevention. Emphasis is put on accidents and physical injuries, including risk factors and effectiveness of prevention; mortality, its causes, risk factors and prevention of seizure-related deaths, as well as traffic accidents, their risk factors and the effectiveness of prevention. Accidents and injuries are slightly more frequent among people with epilepsy than in the general population. This increased risk is probably most prevalent in patients with symptomatic epilepsy and frequent seizures, most often in combination with associated handicaps. The majority of accidents are trivial and occur at home. The most frequent injuries among patients with epilepsy are contusions, wounds, fractures, abrasions and brain concussions. The standardised mortality ratio (SMR; the ratio of observed number of deaths in a population with epilepsy to that expected, based on age and sex-specific mortality rates in a reference population) in population-based studies of epilepsy is 2-3 compared to the general population. This increased mortality is largely related to the etiology of the epilepsy and is probably not influenced by the treatment of the epilepsy. On the other hand, most fatalities in patients with chronic, therapy resistant epilepsy seem to be seizure-related and often sudden unexpected deaths (SUDEP). The frequency of such seizure-related deaths is most likely to be reduced by intensified treatment aiming at early seizure control, although appropriate studies for definitive evidence are still lacking. Apparently, there is an increased rate of traffic accidents in drivers with epilepsy, even if population-based prospective data are lacking. Many of these accidents are seizure-related. Probably, the extent to which physicians report their patients with uncontrolled epilepsy to the authorities is too low, but this has not yet been explored. Moreover, the preventive measures in legislation may be ignored by many people with epilepsy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalEpilepsy Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2004


  • Accidents
  • Epilepsy
  • Injuries
  • Mortality
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neurology

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