Sleeping on back may prevent sudden death among people with epilepsy

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Chicago – People with epilepsy who sleep on their stomach are at higher risk of unexpected death, similar to sudden infant death syndrome, according to a new study from the University of Chicago.

Researchers reviewed 253 cases of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy and found that nearly 75 percent of the victims died in the prone position (face down on stomach, with arms extended and bent). In patients 40 years or younger, the prone position was seen in 86 percent of deaths; only 60 percent of victims older than 40 were found sleeping on their bellies.

Researchers are not sure why it is more common for young people than older adults with epilepsy to die in the prone position. It could be related to young people more likely to be single, and therefore not have anyone with them during a seizure while sleeping, according to a press release from the American Academy of Neurology, which published the study.

The findings suggest sleeping on one’s back may be a good strategy to help prevent sudden unexpected deaths among people with epilepsy. Study author and University of Chicago professor James Tao also suggested using wristwatch and bed alarms designed to detect seizures, and called on partners to help the victim turn over during or after a seizure.

The study was published in the Jan. 21 issue of Neurology.