Introduction: Sudden unexpected death in patients with epilepsy (SUDEP) remains a poorly understood entity, and it is unclear whether the same pathomechanisms underlie all sudden deaths occurring in patients with epilepsy. One aspect not included in current models of SUDEP is the role of increased intracranial pressure (ICP) which can be observed immediately upon seizure activity in neurosurgical practice. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of the occurrence of edema in patients with epilepsy reported to have died of sudden death who underwent brain autopsy or postmortem brain imaging and discuss how increased ICP may contribute to clinical features of SUDEP. Results: 19 eligible studies comprising a total of 623 patients were identified. Edema—mostly mild or moderate—was reported in 17% of cases and 74% of studies. 1% (n = 6) of the overall cases were clearly identified as having Dravet syndrome or an SCN1A mutation. In these patients, edema was found in 4 (67%) of cases. Conclusion: Edema is regularly found in patients with epilepsy classified to have died from SUDEP. We argue that seizures preceding SUDEP may in certain cases elicit acute edema which may represent an additional contributing factor in the cascade of events leading to sudden death of patients with epilepsy. Furthermore, we hypothesize that mild edema may especially progress to severe edema in patients with sodium channel mutations which may represent an important mechanism to investigate in the context of understanding the significantly elevated risk of SUDEP in patients with SCN1A mutations.

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Brain and Behavior
Department of Neurosurgery

Dibué, M., Spoor, J.K.H., Dremmen, M., von Saß, C.F., Hänggi, D., Steiger, H.J., … Kamp, M.A. (2020). Sudden death in epilepsy: There is room for intracranial pressure. Brain and Behavior, 10(11). doi:10.1002/brb3.1838