Implications of Death Certification on Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) Research

Academic Article


  • Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is the leading cause of death in individuals with chronic, uncontrolled epilepsy. Epidemiologists use information on death certificates to study SUDEP. Certification of seizure-related deaths varies. Multiple classification schemes have been proposed to categorize SUDEP type deaths. Nashef et al. recently proposed categorizing death into Definite SUDEP, Definite SUDEP Plus, Probable SUDEP, Possible SUDEP, Near-SUDEP, and Not SUDEP. This study analyzes certification of seizure-related deaths by our office and considers how it relates to Nashef's classifications. Investigative reports from 2011-2015 from the archives of the Jefferson County Coroner/Medical Examiner's Office were searched for the terms “seizure(s)” and “epilepsy.” Cases (N=61) were categorized as Definite SUDEP (n=13), Definite SUDEP Plus (n=12), Probable SUDEP (n=1), Possible SUDEP (n=2), and Not SUDEP (n=33). The term SUDEP was only used in one case of Definite SUDEP. The other 12 cases were certified with variations of terms “seizure” and “epilepsy.” Cases categorized as Definite SUDEP Plus were overwhelmingly certified as deaths due to heart disease. Categories Probable SUDEP or Possible SUDEP comprised three cases, and in one of those a seizure-related term was used on the death certificate. Thirty-three cases were classified as Not SUDEP. The finding that the majority of cases of Definite SUDEP were certified as some variation of “seizure” or “epilepsy” but not “SUDEP” has important implications for SUDEP research. Our study also suggests that cases of Definite SUDEP Plus would be difficult for epidemiologists to identify because cardiovascular diseases are more frequently implicated.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Atherton DS; Devinsky O; Hesdorffer DC; Wright C; Davis GG
  • Start Page

  • 96
  • End Page

  • 102
  • Volume

  • 6
  • Issue

  • 1