Can you die from a seizure? Here’s what you need to know

Can you die from a seizure?

As proximal causes, cardiac arrest and pulmonary dysfunction 1have been proposed. Patients who have uncontrolled seizures are at the highest risk factors for Sudden Unexpected Death (SUDEP), and those who have tonic-clonic seizures, are on numerous seizure medications as prescribed, or have an underlying neurologic illness2 are at even higher risk.

On the other hand, SUDEP is not brought on by trauma or drowning. A death that comes on quickly and isn’t predicted is what this term alludes to. The vast majority of fatalities happen either during the seizure itself or immediately after it.

Some children have as many as one hundred absence seizures in a single day. Seizures of a Generalized Tonic-Clonic Type 4 are called grand mal seizures 3or convulsive seizures4 or tonic-clonic seizures5, and generalized seizures are the easiest to recognize.

Researchers think that a lengthy delay in breathing leads to less oxygen in the blood, which in turn leads to asphyxia6. However, the exact cause of these fatalities is unclear at this time. There is also the possibility that the seizure creates a deadly interruption in the rhythm of the heart, which ultimately results in the heart’s halting beating.

1. How Serious Are Seizures?

Most people are unaware of how dangerous uncontrolled seizures may be; what their risk factors are. They either believe that seizures aren’t a concern or that they can kill anybody. Between the two lies the truth.

People may experience a variety of issues, including head injury, the effects of frequent seizures on the brain, seizure crises, and mortality.

This is a frightening issue to read about and discuss. However, knowing the facts is essential so you know what questions to ask your doctor and healthcare team.

Knowing your own hazards, and for every person that you count as a loved one might also help you figure out how to mitigate them!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 1.16 instances of unexpected mortality for every 1,000 people who have uncontrolled epilepsy every year.

The number of instances of Sudden Unexplained Death may be far greater than has been documented since many experts feel it is very probable that many SUDEP cases are not reported.

2. Types of Seizures

When parts of a brain experience a burst of abnormal electrical impulses that interrupt normal brain signals, that’s when a seizure occurs.

2.1 Focal Seizures (Partial type of Seizure)

The kind of seizure that begins in one area of the brain, and affects that specific part of the brain and the body. Not nearly as many risk factors as a generalized seizure, but a focal seizure can make its way to other areas of the brain and become a generalized one.

2.2 Generalized Seizures

A generalized seizure occurs when not one, but both sides (or all sides) of the brain experience electrical activity at the same time.

Other seizures under the generalized type:

  • Absence Seizures (petit mal seizures)
  • Atonic Seizures (drop attack)
  • Myoclonic Seizures
  • Tonic & Clonic Seizures (grand mal seizures/convulsive seizures) [nocturnal seizures]

Seizure Triggers are mentioned below, even though it’s always hard to pinpoint an exact cause. The following can be the possible factors behind how a seizure may be triggered:

  • Missing your medication
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Tension/Trauma
  • Too much alcohol

Flashing lights can be part of other causes, but it’s one of the less frequent seizure triggers than most people might imagine.

3. Can Death Result from a Seizure?

Even while fatalities caused by seizures are relatively rare, the condition should not be taken lightly.

People who have uncontrolled epilepsy suffer from a range of diseases that cause them to experience seizures. However, even those who do not have epilepsy are not immune to having seizures.

During a seizure trigger, many people living with epilepsy die from accidental drowning, falls, or choking, which are all examples of the kinds of external events that might cause mortality.

A person is said to have sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (abbreviated as SUDEP) when they pass away during or soon after a persistent seizure for no apparent cause other than the seizure itself.

According to the CDC, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy patients is very uncommon and may only occur in 1.16 out of every 1,000 persons who have epilepsy.

According to the findings of one research, SUDEP cases account for roughly 7–17 percent of fatalities that occur among persons who have epilepsy. The researchers point out that the reported number of fatalities might vary significantly from one study to the next.

4. How Does One Die from Seizures?

Several causes may lead to deaths from seizures that are not considered to be Sudden Unexpected Death, including the following:

  • Problems with breathing caused by concussions, head traumas, or bleeding in the brain
  • Plipping and falling, inhaling vomit, or drowning in even a little amount of water, such as in a bath, are all potential causes of death.

Several hypotheses attempt to explain why people living with seizures pass away, even though the reason for a sudden unexpected death, also known as SUDEP, cannot be determined. A temporary cessation of breathing might result in a dangerously low concentration of oxygen in the brain or blood.

A person’s airway can get blocked during a convulsion, which may result in asphyxia.

Alternate hypotheses revolve around the concept of the heart. Some medical professionals believe that a heart arrhythmia or cardiac arrest might result in mortality in patients with Sudden unexpected death. Likely, Sudden Unexpected Death in an Adult might also result from a combination of heart and lung problems.

5. Lowering Your Chances of Having a Seizure


photo by Klaus Nielsen/pexels

To avoid having unprovoked seizures or focal seizures, or prevent seizures in general, make sure you take your anti-seizure medicine7 as instructed. If your current treatment plan isn’t helping, it’s time to see an epilepsy specialist. Your primary care physician may need to alter your dose or recommend an alternative drug for you.

Finding out what causes seizures may also be of great assistance. Because they vary from person to person, it might be difficult to identify the particular factors that set off your anxiety. Keeping a seizure journal might be of some use.

Keeping a seizure journal might help determine the patterns or circumstances that bring on seizures. If you can avoid your known seizure triggers, it may be possible to lower the number of attacks you have.

You may keep track of your seizures by using the notes function on your phone, or you can download an app that acts as a seizure diary to your smartphone or tablet.

You may lower your chances of having a seizure that results in death if you avoid drinking too much alcohol. In addition to that, make sure that everyone in your family is familiar with seizure first aid.

During this step, you will be placed on the ground and positioned such that one side of your body is facing up. You may find it easier to breathe if you assume this posture. They should also remove their neckties and unbutton the top button of their shirts so that the collar may be seen.

6. How to Tell If Someone is Having Seizures?

A migraine headache, a stroke, narcolepsy, and Tourette syndrome are all conditions that have the potential to give the appearance of a seizure.

Your physician will inquire about your medical history as well as the circumstances that preceded the seizure to make an accurate diagnosis of the condition. You may have an electroencephalogram (also known as an EEG), which is a kind of test that captures the electrical activity in the brain. It helps identify anomalies in the waves produced by the brain.

A variety of epileptic seizures may be identified with the use of an EEG, which can also provide insight into the likelihood of future seizures.

In addition, your physician may decide to request tests to try to identify the underlying cause of the seizures. A blood test may screen for infections or genetic problems that may lead to seizures, while a neurological exam can search for abnormalities in your neural system. Both of these factors may play a role in epileptic seizures.

Imaging tests are also performed to examine for tumors, lesions, or cysts in your brain. This may be done in both adults and children. A CT scan, MRI scan, or PET scan are some examples of these.

7. How is an Epileptic Seizure Managed Medically?


photo by Anna Shvets/pexels

Seizure control is brought on by a single occurrence and often does not call for medical care. However, if you have more than one seizure, your doctor may decide to give you an anti-seizure medicine so that you may avoid having any additional seizures in the future.

There are a variety of anti-seizure medications that may successfully treat seizures.

Your physician will provide a recommendation for medicine or medications depending on the kind of seizure that you are experiencing.

When anticonvulsant drugs are ineffective, your physician may suggest that you undergo surgery to have the area of the brain removed that is responsible for the seizures. Bear in mind that for this operation to be successful, the epileptic patient’s seizures must originate from the same location.

There is also a possibility that you may benefit from stimulation treatment. Activation of the vagus nerve, stimulation of the responsive neural system, or deep brain stimulation is all possible options. These treatments help suppress seizures by modulating the activity that occurs normally in the brain.

7.1 Concerns to Address with One’s Physician

Make sure a doctor is aware of every epileptic seizure episode a person has ever had so that they can make suitable treatment recommendations.

A person who has seizures should provide information to a doctor regarding the time, length, and frequency of their seizures, as well as the situations that trigger their seizures.

Some patients with uncontrolled epilepsy maintain a seizure notebook in which they record information regarding the circumstances surrounding their seizures, such as the time of day, amount of alcohol or caffeine consumed, mood, and amount of sleep received, amongst other aspects.

A person needs to inquire with their physician:

  • Does the physician see any recurring themes in the patient’s previous episodes of epileptic seizure?
  • Do they have any recommendations about general safety?
  • Which aspects of the environment should they take into consideration?
  • Should they spend their money on an epilepsy monitoring device?
  • Does the individual need therapy, and would it make their life better if they received it?
  • What other ways may this condition be treated? What adverse effects may I experience?
  • Should the individual be living with another person?
  • Should they seek medical attention from an epileptologist? *A neurologist who specializes in treating epilepsy is referred to as an epilepsy specialist.

8. Wrapping up – Can You Die from a Seizure?

Yes, a seizure can result in sudden death. However, while this is not impossible, and it is hard to live a seizure-free life for people with epilepsy, it does not happen very often.

On an additional note, there’s a life-threatening condition referred to as ‘status epileptic where a seizure lasts up to five minutes (or longer), and it has the capacity to send a person into a medical emergency and put them at risk of permanent brain damage. And in extreme cases, death. A person like this can also have frequent seizures within five minutes.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your health conditions if you believe that the anti-seizure medications you are now taking aren’t doing their job. To better manage your attacks, your healthcare provider may recommend a new medicine cocktail or suggest other treatment options. An epileptic seizure almost seldom results in death.

Even while there is not much a person can do to avoid sudden death other than to continue taking their medicine, there are techniques to reduce the chance of accidentally dying during a seizure. A list of neurologists who help treat epilepsy is available from the American Academy of Neurology and the Epilepsy Foundation

It is possible to help avoid a person’s death from drowning, falling, or choking on their food or drink during a seizure by making the person’s surroundings and behavior as safe, and as seizure-free as possible.

When living with seizures, additional measures to lessen risk include moving in with someone else and using the buddy system when participating in activities that include water.


9.1 What is the Prognosis for people who Have Been Diagnosed with Epilepsy?

Even while having epilepsy presents some difficulties, it is still possible to lead a regular life despite having the illness. Some individuals ultimately outgrow their seizures, while others might go years without having one.

Understanding your risk factors and taking preventative measures to avoid known seizure triggers is essential to successfully managing attacks.

The Epilepsy Foundation estimates that after receiving treatment, about six out of ten persons living with epilepsy will be able to live a life free of seizures within a few years.

9.2 Is It Possible that a Person with Epilepsy May Pass Away at a Young Age?

People who have epilepsy have a mortality risk that is between 1.6 and 3 times greater than the risk factors of death seen in the general population. Children who have epilepsy may have a little increased mortality rate. However, the mortality rates of the vast majority of children who do not have epilepsy are quite low.

People with epilepsy are brought on by things like a stroke or a brain tumor or another disease in the brain that may pass away from the cause of epilepsy rather than the convulsive seizures triggered earlier in their lives.

The likelihood of a person passing away is proportional to the frequency and severity of their seizures. People who suffer from seizures for whom there is no recognized reason may pass away only two years sooner than predicted.

People who have seizures with an identified cause are at an increased risk of dying ten years sooner than planned.

Edited by Pooja Motwani

Stroke Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention
Icy Health
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  3. GASTAUT, HENRI, R. Naquet, and M. Fischer-Williams. “The pathophysiology of grand mal seizures generalized from the start.” The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 127.1 (1958): 21-33. ↩︎
  4. Delanty, Norman, Carl J. Vaughan, and Jacqueline A. French. “Medical causes of seizures.” The Lancet 352.9125 (1998): 383-390. ↩︎
  5. Nass, Robert D., et al. “Acute metabolic effects of tonic‐clonic seizures.” Epilepsia open 4.4 (2019): 599-608. ↩︎
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