Drowning in epilepsy: A population-based case series
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OBJECTIVES: The risk of drowning is reported to be 15-19 times greater in people with epilepsy compared to the general population. Despite this disproportionate burden, there is limited data about the circumstances surrounding drowning deaths in people with epilepsy. This population-based case series characterizes drowning deaths in people with epilepsy. METHODS: Postmortem data from coroner-ordered autopsies conducted in Ontario between 2014 and 2016 were screened for cases of drowning in people with a history of seizures. Demographic information, epilepsy characteristics, and circumstances surrounding death were extracted from post mortem reports. The incidence of drowning in people with epilepsy was calculated using government estimates of the Ontario population and the number of people with epilepsy. RESULTS: Twenty-five people with epilepsy drowned during the three-year study period, giving an estimated incidence of 1.5 per 10,000 epilepsy person-years (95% CI: 0.98, 2.23). Decedents were mostly young (mean age 36 years) and without physical or developmental disability. Approximately one-third had psychiatric comorbidities. Epilepsy severity ranged from well-controlled to drug refractory. Only 3 people had alcohol or illicit drugs detected on toxicological analysis. Forty-four percent of deaths were the result of an unwitnessed drowning in a bathtub. CONCLUSIONS: This population-based case series confirms people with epilepsy drown at a rate nearly ten times greater than the general population (1.5 per 10,000 epilepsy person-years compared to the estimated provincial average of 0.13 per 10,000). Drowning deaths in people with epilepsy most often occur in the bathtub. These deaths are only rarely associated with intoxication. People with epilepsy should receive counseling on the increased risk of drowning, including information regarding the significant risk associated with bathtub use, the potential protective roles of anti-epileptic drug (AED) adherence and supervision when in or around water, and the fact that all people with epilepsy remain at an increased risk of drowning regardless of their apparent seizure control.
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