To identify all cases of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) among people in Sweden during 1 year and to determine the SUDEP incidence in relation to age, sex, and psychiatric comorbidity.
We included all individuals with a hospital-based ambulatory care or hospital discharge diagnosis of epilepsy in the Swedish National Patient Registry during 1998-2005 who were alive on January 1, 2008. Deaths during 2008 were identified by linkage to the National Cause of Death Registry. Death certificates, medical charts, and police and autopsy reports were extensively reviewed to identify SUDEP cases.
Of 57,775 epilepsy patients alive on January 1, 2008, 1,890 died (3.3%) during 2008. Of these, 99 met the Annegers SUDEP criteria (49 definite, 19 probable, and 31 possible). SUDEP accounted for 5.2% of all deaths and 36% of deaths in the 0-15 years age group. The incidence of definite/probable SUDEP was 1.20/1,000 person-years, and higher in men (1.41) than in women (0.96). All SUDEP cases 50 years was 1.11, 1.13, and 1.29, respectively, per 1,000 person-years. The incidence was 5-fold increased among female patients with psychiatric comorbidities compared to those without. Epilepsy was mentioned on the death certificate in only 62 of the 99 (63%) SUDEP cases.
Methods relying on death certificates underestimate SUDEP incidence. SUDEP risk has been underestimated especially in boys and in older people regardless of sex. Patients with psychiatric comorbidities, women in particular, are at increased SUDEP risk.