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People with epilepsy live shorter lives

On average, people with epilepsy live 10–12 years less than those who do not have the condition. Excess mortality is particularly pronounced among people with epilepsy and mental disorders. This is shown by research from Aarhus University.

Julie Dreier from BSS and Jakob Christensen from Health are behind the results of the research.

50,000 Danes live with epilepsy, which is one of the most frequently occurring neurological diseases. New research now shows that people with epilepsy die significantly earlier than people without – on average they live 10–12 years less. 

"The significantly reduced life expectancy is found both in people who develop epilepsy as a result of an underlying condition, such as brain cancer or stroke, and in those who develop epilepsy without an obvious underlying cause," explains Julie Werenberg Dreier, who is senior researcher at the National Centre for Register-based Research at Aarhus University and one of the researchers behind the study.

Wide range of causes of death

The average reduction in life expectancy was 12 years for men with epilepsy and 11 years for women. Excess mortality is particularly pronounced among people with epilepsy and mental disorders, where life expectancy was on average reduced by up to 16 years. 

"We discovered that the reduced life expectancy for people with epilepsy was related to a wide range of causes of death which don’t just include the neurological, but also cardiovascular diseases, psychiatric disorders, alcohol related conditions, accidents and suicide," says Jakob Christensen. He is clinical associate professor at Aarhus University and consultant at the Department of Neurology at Aarhus University Hospital, and is also one of the researchers behind the study.

It was possible to conduct the study by utilising the Danish healthcare registers to follow almost six million Danes, including more than 130,000 people with epilepsy. 

"The large study has enabled detailed analyses of a range of different causes of death and, for the first time, we’ve been able to estimate the number of years lost due to individual causes of death in people with epilepsy. This is important information as it can be used to target preventive efforts in order to reduce the mortality gap that we currently see in people with epilepsy," says Julie Werenberg Dreier.

Mortality needs to be reduced

The results have just been published in the scientific journal Brain.

According to the researchers, the mortality rate among people with epilepsy is due to a wide range of different conditions that cut across virtually all medical specialities. There is therefore a need for a collective effort to reduce mortality. 

"The alarming results provide important knowledge for all healthcare professionals who, in one way or another, come into contact with people with epilepsy – also when prioritising and allocating resources in the healthcare system. The results clearly show how serious a disease epilepsy can be, and the findings of the study should be used in the prioritisation and planning of preventive measures," says Jakob Christensen and emphasises that the results confirm the tendencies that have been shown in a few smaller studies which have estimated reduction in life expectancy in people with epilepsy. 

"The study should be followed up by additional research, for example into the questions of how medical treatment and recurring seizures affect life expectancy."

Background for the results

Type of study: Register-based study

Partners: The National Centre for Register-based Research, Aarhus University; The Department of Neurology, Aarhus University Hospital; The Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University; The Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, Sweden.

The study is financed by the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Danish Epilepsy Association and the Central Denmark Region.

The scientific article can be read in Brain: https://academic.oup.com/brain/advance-article/doi/10.1093/brain/awac042/6541147

Conflict of interests: Jakob Christensen has received remuneration for giving lectures and for being a member of the scientific advisory committee at UCB Nordic and Eisai AB and he has also received funding for a trip from UCB Nordic. The other authors have no conflicts of interest.


Julie Werenberg Dreier
Senior Researcher, The National Centre for Register-Based Research, Aarhus University
Tel.: (+45) 2562 1178
Email: jwdreier@econ.au.dk

Jakob Christensen
Consultant, Department of Neurology, Aarhus University Hospital
Associate Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University
Tel. (+45) 6086 5899
Email: jakob@farm.au.dk