Epilepsy Linked to Higher Suicide Risk
Study Shows Women With Epilepsy Have Greater Suicide Risk Than Men With Epilepsy
July 5, 2007 -- People with epilepsy are three times more likely to commit
suicide than the general population, and women with the disease have a greater
suicide risk than men, according to new research from Denmark.
The Danish study is not the first to link epilepsy to an increase in
suicide, but it is the first to use a comprehensive, nationwide population
registry to investigate the association.
Newly diagnosed epilepsy patients were more than five times more likely to
commit suicide than patients who had been diagnosed more than six months
previously. A 29-fold increase in suicide risk was seen in newly diagnosed
patients with a history of psychiatric illness.
"Even when mental illness and other suicide risk factors were controlled
for, people with epilepsy were at increased risk for suicide," researcher
Per Sidenius, MD, of Aarhus University Hospital tells WebMD.
"It is clear that epilepsy patients need [mental health] support,
especially immediately after a diagnosis of epilepsy."
Epilepsy, Depression, and Suicide
Sidenius and colleagues compared health histories of 21,169 suicide cases
occurring in Demark between 1981 and 1997 to 423,128 people who had not
committed suicide -- matched by sex and age. The suicide cases were taken from
a comprehensive Danish death registry.
A total of 492 of the suicides occurred among people with epilepsy (2.32%),
compared with 3,140 cases of epilepsy in the people who had not committed
suicide (0.74%), corresponding to a threefold higher suicide risk among
When people with a history of psychiatric illness were excluded from the
analysis and researchers adjusted for other risk factors associated with
suicide, epilepsy patients were still twice as likely to commit suicide as
people without epilepsy.
Women with epilepsy and a history of psychiatric disease were 23 times more
likely to commit suicide than women without either condition, compared with a
tenfold increase in risk among men with epilepsy and psychiatric illness.
The study is published in the August issue of the journal Lancet
Sidenius says the findings point to the importance of evaluating epilepsy
patients for depression and suicidal behavior and offering psychiatric
treatment if needed.
"Newly diagnosed patients often have many misconceptions about the
disease," he says. "They often don't understand that there are good
treatments with few side effects."
Epilepsy-Suicide Relationship Complex
Depression is more common among people with epilepsy than among the general
population. Certainly, the difficulties of living with seizures can cause
depression, but this does not appear to fully explain the association.
People with a history of depression, for example, have been shown to have a
higher risk for developing epilepsy. And most studies have failed to show a
link between severity of seizures and depression symptoms.
In 2005, researchers from Columbia University reported an increased risk of
suicidal thoughts and behaviors in patients who later developed epilepsy.
The finding suggests a complex relationship between suicide, seizures, and
epilepsy, says Columbia's Dale C. Hesdorffer, PhD, who led the study team.
She tells WebMD that a common underlying brain dysfunction may link epilepsy
and suicidal behavior.
"Patients with new-onset seizures should be thoroughly evaluated to
determine if they have a history of major depression or suicidal
behaviors," she says. "Our research suggests a common underlying
predisposition for suicidal behavior and epilepsy that is, as yet, not