Morbidity in Patients with Epilepsy: Type and Complications: A European Cohort Study


  • Mariska Van Den Broek,

  • Ettore Beghi for the RESt-1 Group*

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. E. Beghi at Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche “Mario Negri,” Via Eritrea 62, 20157 Milano, Italy. E-mail:


Summary: Purpose: To investigate the risk of illnesses in a cohort of patients with epilepsy and in matched nonepilepsy controls, by type and complications.

Methods: A total of 951 children and adults with idiopathic, cryptogenic, or remote symptomatic epilepsy and 904 matched controls seen in secondary and tertiary centers in eight European countries (England, Estonia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia) were followed prospectively for 17,484 and 17,206 person-months and asked to report any spontaneous complaint requiring medical attention (illness), its type and complications (hospitalization, absence from work or school, medical action). Risk assessment was done by actuarial methods, relative risks (RR), and 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: During the study period 644 patients (68%) and 504 controls (56%) reported an illness (p < 0.0001); 30% were seizure related. The cumulative probability of illness at 12 and 24 months was 49 and 86% in the cases and 39 and 75% in the controls (p < 0.0001). The largest differences regarded disorders affecting the nervous system (NS) (RR, 3.3; 95% CI, 2.3–4.2) and ear, nose, and throat (ENT) (RR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.0–1.6). In patients with epilepsy, an NS illness was more likely to be followed by hospital admission, work absence, or medical intervention. All risks were significantly reduced after excluding seizure-related events.

Conclusions: Patients with epilepsy are at higher risk of NS and ENT illnesses and complications than the general population. However, the risk of illness is significantly reduced when seizure-related events are excluded.