While most people with epilepsy live long and healthy lives, there are some situations where seizures can be life-threatening, such as when they happen in or near water. The frequency of drowning among people living with epilepsy (PWE) is nearly ten times greater than the general population. In fact, PWE have a 15-19 times greater risk of drowning. However, there are many precautions one can take to reduce their risk of drowning. In a recently published study, Dr. Elizabeth Donner and colleagues examined a set of data from PWE in Ontario who drowned and described the characteristics surrounding their deaths. The authors also make recommendations to help prevent drowning.
Researchers reviewed data from autopsies conducted by the Ontario Forensic Pathology Services between 2014 and 2016. In particular, they screened for cases of drowning in people with a history of seizures. The frequency of drowning in PWE was calculated using government estimates of PWE and the Ontario population.
Overall, during the 3-year study period, they found that a total of 25 PWE drowned. 56% were male, 3 were obese, 8 were overweight, and the average age was 36 years old. There was evidence that 6 people had experienced a seizure prior to drowning based on video footage, eyewitness accounts, and evidence of a tongue bite at autopsy. They found that approximately one-third were living with psychiatric disorders in addition to epilepsy, including schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. In addition, drowning deaths in PWE most often occurred in the bathtub (11 in total), and more females than males were found in bathtub-related drownings.
This study confirms a high number of drowning deaths in PWE in Ontario over 3 years. Given these data, there are significant risks associated with bathtub use. Information and counseling on the increased risks of drowning should be provided to people with epilepsy. Additionally, it is recommended that people with epilepsy take the following precautions:
- Take prescribed anti-seizure medication on time and be aware of the potential side effects
- Swim in supervised areas or swim with a buddy
- Wear a lifejacket on boats or while fishing
- Consider showering instead of bathing, if possible, and ensure that the shower drain cannot be blocked
This study aims to raise awareness of the risks associated with drowning and provides specific prevention strategies for people with epilepsy and their caregivers.
How much did this project eat up in funding? Really? Do we need actual statistics on near drownings before ‘experts’ recommend their patients take extra caution around water? Did those 25 people over 3 years need to lose their lives and become statistics before this became standard preventative measures with specialists?
Surely, you can do better than this with funding. Let’s find a cure….
Thank you for your message.
Although this study was led by a EpLink researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Donner, it was not directly funded by EpLink.
EpLink is involved in several areas of epilepsy research. While some of our researchers are indeed searching for a “cure”, we also recognize the importance of improving safety and quality of life for those currently living with epilepsy. We thought that this study was important to communicate because it provides a clearer understanding of the role epilepsy may have played in drowning deaths and raises awareness of people living with epilepsy about the risks associated with being in or near water. We believe that the dissemination of this study is important because it provides more information about the current rate of drownings in Ontario and may help to identify gaps in counseling and education regarding drowning prevention. In addition, our community advisers strongly encourage us to share information about preventing injuries and drownings in people with epilepsy.
To learn more about health research in Canada and the process of finding “cures” (i.e. taking discoveries into development and into the market), we suggest reading the following page from CIHR: http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/e/50217.html. In general, any recommendations made by primary health care providers must be made based upon scientific evidence from multiple studies, and studies like this one are necessary to help change clinical practice.
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
I think it’s pretty sad that in the year 2018 we’re just now ensuring ‘formal’ recommendations for PWE. Long overdue I’d say and a basic preventive measure at that. This just reinforces how low a priority the condition is within the health care field and the general public. It’s still hidden in the recesses of society and very little has changed since the 30 years my family has been dealing with it. Have you actually taken a look at the various facebook pages/posts dealing with SUDEP? Why are so many young people dying during seizures. Why isn’t educating patients on their risks of SUDEP part of specialist’s SOP? This condition kills and it mames too. Sometimes the treatment (medications) are as bad as the condition as evidenced by cognitive and behaviourial impairments.