Can my child die from seizure?

It is very rare for a child to die from a seizure. However, people with epilepsy, particularly symptomatic or cryptogenic epilepsy, do have a higher risk of death than people without epilepsy. The risks vary widely and depend on the individual child; talk to your doctor about your child’s situation. 

There is a higher risk of death if:

  • The child has a severe underlying neurological disorder 
  • The child has prolonged status epilepticus; however, status epilepticus is less likely to cause death in children than in adults 
  • The child is injured during a seizure, for instance through head injuries, drowning, burns, or suffocation
  • In the absence of these factors, the risks to the child are very low. Most of the time, death is related to the underlying cause of the epilepsy. If a child is otherwise in good health, her risk of death is small. Talk to your child’s doctor about her specific risks.

SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy)

SUDEP is defined as death for no obvious reason in a person with epilepsy. It is rare, particularly in children, and difficult to predict. Most commonly, the person is found dead in bed in the morning. 

SUDEP does not always involve a recent seizure. In some cases, there is no evidence that a recent seizure has occurred.

The risk factors for SUDEP include having frequent generalized convulsive (tonic-clonic) seizures, using multiple anticonvulsant medications, and poor compliance with the medication regime (such as skipping doses). The risk factors for SUDEP in children have not been clearly defined; however, research is ongoing in this area.

More information about SUDEP and support for families who have been affected is available at SUDEP Aware. 

Reducing the risks
Make sure that your child takes reasonable safety precautions. Like all children, children with epilepsy should never swim or have baths alone and should wear a helmet when doing activities like bicycling, skateboarding, in-line skating, or horseback riding. Finally, make sure that babysitters, teachers, and coaches know what to do if your child has a seizure. 

Most experts believe that the best way to prevent SUDEP is to work with your doctor to prevent seizures using as few medications as possible. People with epilepsy are also encouraged to take medications correctly and identify and minimize seizure triggers