MONDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- People with epilepsy are 11 times more likely to die prematurely than people in the general population. And the increased risk of early death is significantly higher among those with mental illnesses, especially depression and alcohol and drug-use disorders, a new study suggests.
"Our results have significant public health implications as around 70 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and emphasize that carefully assessing and treating psychiatric disorders as part as part of standard checks in persons with epilepsy could help reduce the risk of premature death in these patients," said study leader Seena Fazel, from the University of Oxford, in England.
The study included nearly 70,000 epilepsy patients born in Sweden between 1954 and 2009 and followed for up to 41 years. They were compared to more than 660,000 people in the general population and more than 81,000 siblings without epilepsy.
During the study, about 9 percent of people with epilepsy died, compared with 0.7 percent of people in the general population. Deaths from external causes (suicide, vehicular and non-vehicular accidents, and assaults) accounted for nearly 16 percent of all deaths among people with epilepsy, and were the most common causes of death not associated with the underlying disease process.
Of the epilepsy patients who died from external causes, 75 percent also had a diagnosed mental disorder, with substance abuse (56 percent) and depression (23 percent) the most common, according to the study, published July 22 in The Lancet.
People with both epilepsy and substance abuse were 22 times more likely to die from external causes than people with neither condition. The majority of deaths from external causes were from suicides, and people with epilepsy were four times more likely to commit suicide than people in the general population.
The study also highlights the importance of suicide and non-vehicular accidents as major preventable causes of death in people with epilepsy, Fazel added in a journal news release.
While the research found an association between having epilepsy and premature death, it did not establish a cause-and-effect link.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about epilepsy.