People diagnosed with epilepsy are five times more likely than their peers to commit suicide in the six months following the diagnosis, Danish researchers report. Epileptics are three times more likely to commit suicide than people who don't have the disorder.
Researchers at Aarhus University Hospital studied more than 21,000 cases of suicide in Denmark between 1981 and 1997. They compared that data against information from more than 423,000 people who did not commit suicide. The results showed that in a patient with a history of psychiatric disease there was a 29-fold increase in risk of suicide (OR 29.2, 95% CI 16.4-51.9, P <0.0001).
The author Jakob Christensen, M.D., of Aarhus University Hospital, wrote in the The Lancet Neurology, "Individuals with epilepsy have a higher risk of suicide, even if co-existing psychiatric disease, demographic differences and socio-economic factors are taken into account,"
"Our study identifies people with newly diagnosed epilepsy as a vulnerable group that require special attention." ``The effect on daily lives of patients, such as loss of job and driving license, is greatest shortly after diagnosis,'' the researchers said. While epileptics experience a high rate of depression and other mental illnesses, ``we also observed a high suicide risk shortly after the diagnosis among epilepsy patients without psychiatric disease,'' they said.
Epilepsy occurs when clusters of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally, causing strange sensations, behavior, convulsions, muscle spasms and seizures. About 50 million people worldwide suffer from the condition, with roughly 75 new cases diagnosed every day, according to Britain's National Society for Epilepsy.
``Uncontrolled seizures and drug side effects can have a devastating effect on the quality of life for people with the condition,'' Ingrid Burns, public relations manager at U.K. advocacy group Epilepsy Action, ``Many aspects can be affected like employment, schooling and social life.''
Patients frequently get insufficient treatment after being diagnosed with epilepsy, with proper medication, more than 70 percent of epileptics could be seizure-free, instead of the current 52 percent, Burns said.
Michael R. Sperling, M.D., professor of neurology and director of the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center in Philadelphia, said the Danish study was "frankly confirmatory of an extensive literature known for many decades." Dr. Sperling was not involved in the study.
"Persons with epilepsy", Dr. Sperling said, "are also more likely to experience depression and, particularly when the seizures are uncontrolled, suicides are significantly higher."
The most common cause of death associated with epilepsy, said Dr. Sperling, is "unexplained death in epilepsy, which is responsible for 15% to 50% of the excess deaths in these patients. Typically, these patients are found dead in their beds with no apparent cause of death."
Cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality is also higher among persons with epilepsy, according to Dr. Sperling.
Mark Cook, professor of neurosurgery at St Vincent's Hospital, the really big issue is still the stigma and social difficulty that surround the diagnosis of epilepsy and its management." It has been seen that women with the illness were more likely to take their own life then men. The incidence of suicide decreased as sufferers grew older. In fact, more quickly, than in the non- epileptic population.
``Improvement of epilepsy care, introduction of new drugs with fewer side effects, and reduced use of barbiturates are possible explanations for this declining time trend,'' the study said.