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Sleeping on stomach increases risk of sudden death in epilepsy

Those who suffer from epilepsy should avoid sleeping on their stomach as they may be at higher risk of sudden unexpected death, similar to sudden infant death syndrome in babies, say scientists.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures and affects an estimated 50 million people all over the world. “Sudden unexpected death is the main cause of death in uncontrolled epilepsy and usually occurs unwitnessed during sleep,” said James Tao from University of Chicago in Illinois.

For the study, researchers reviewed 25 studies that included 253 sudden unexpected death cases where body position was recorded. The study found that 73 % of the cases died in the stomach sleep position, whereas 27 % died in other sleep positions.

People younger than 40 were four times more likely to be found on their stomachs at the time of sudden death than people over 40. A total of 11 cases of sudden death occurred while the people were being monitored and their sleeping position was recorded.

Similar to infant cases, adults often have an impaired ability to wake up after a seizure, especially a general seizure, they said.

“Our findings highlight an important strategy for preventing sudden unexpected death in epilepsy – that ‘back is best’. Using wrist watches and bed alarms designed to detect seizures during sleep may also help prevent these deaths,” Tao said.

The study has been published in the journal Neurology.

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