FAQs about Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP)

  • SUDEP is the single most common cause of mortality in epilepsy, exceeding accidents, status epilepticus (prolonged seizures), and other causes. 
  • SUDEP is diagnosed, by definition, as sudden death in otherwise healthy individuals where no specific pathological process can be readily identified by clinical history or autopsy examination.
  • SUDEP,  while more common in the 18-40 yr age group, affects people of all ages each year.
  • SUDEP typically happens in bed at night, but can also occur during light activity or daytime sleep.
  • SUDEP can occur shortly following a seizure, but the seizure is often unwitnessed.
  • SUDEP could share some underlying mechanisms of SIDS and SUD, where a history of seizures has not been recognized. 
  • SUDEP may follow recent antiepileptic drug withdrawal or non-compliance, but can also occur when AED levels are within therapeutic levels.  
  • The first gene for SUDEP links epilepsy with an inherited cardiac arrhythmia known as long QT syndrome.
  • Central apnea and cerebral hypoxia due to postictal collapse of brain regulatory control mechanisms are also leading suspected causes of SUDEP.