Patients with both schizophrenia and epilepsy die alarmingly early

Summary: One in four people who have both schizophrenia and epilepsy die between the ages of 25-50.

Source: Aarhus University

Patients who suffer from schizophrenia and epilepsy are particularly vulnerable. In the study, the researchers followed more than 1,5 million people and classified them according to whether they were diagnosed with epilepsy, schizophrenia or the combination of epilepsy and schizophrenia on their twenty-fifth birthday.

“There was an exceedingly high mortality rate among people with these disorders, particularly those who suffer from the combination of epilepsy and schizophrenia. More than 25 per cent of them die between the ages of 25-50,” says Jakob Christensen, who is one of the researchers behind the study.

He is a clinical associate professor and DMSc at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University and consultant at the Department of Neurology at Aarhus University Hospital. He is also a member of the national psychiatric project iPSYCH and the epilepsy project EpiPsych which carries out research into the correlation between epilepsy and mental disorders.

Patients fall between two chairs

The researchers hope to see the results raise awareness about the difficulties of living with epilepsy and schizophrenia.

“The results are really intended to help healthcare professionals develop new working processes so that this group of patients can get the right treatment. We already know from previous studies, that this group of patients die from a wide range of lifestyle diseases, and that some of these are preventable,” says Jakob Christensen and continues:

“With the way things are now, this patient group can easily fall between two chairs and end up being sent back and forth between different medical specialists or between hospitals and their general practitioner. It appears that people with epilepsy and schizophrenia are particularly vulnerable – and there is certainly room for improvement in the way the healthcare system deals with them and their treatment.”

Studies have identified a clear association between epilepsy and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and psychosis. A Danish study has e.g. shown that people with epilepsy have a risk of developing schizophrenia that is two-and-a-half times higher than those without epilepsy.

This shows a blue head made of bubbles
Studies have identified a clear association between epilepsy and mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and psychosis. The image is in the public domain.

The study

Among the subjects in the study, 18,943 were diagnosed with epilepsy, 10,208 were diagnosed with schizophrenia, and 471 were diagnosed with both epilepsy and schizophrenia before they turned twenty-five. The mortality rate for these subjects at age fifty was 3.1 per cent for people who did not suffer from epilepsy and schizophrenia; 10.7 per cent for people with epilepsy; 17.4 per cent for people with schizophrenia; and 27.2 per cent for people with both epilepsy and schizophrenia.

Background for the results:

The study is a population-based nationwide cohort study of people born in Denmark between 1960-87 who were resident in Denmark on their twenty-fifth birthday.

Funding: The study has received financing from the Lundbeck Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Aarhus University and the Central Denmark Region.

Conflicts of interest: Jakob Christensen has received remuneration for acting as a scientific adviser to UCB Nordic and Eisai AB, and speaking fees from UCB Nordic and Eisai AB for lectures, as well as financing for travel from UCB Nordic. Jakob Christensen is also involved in other studies involving the companies: Pfizer, Novartis, Eisai AB and Sage Therapeutics. Inc.

About this neuroscience research article

Aarhus University
Media Contacts:
Jakob Christensen – Aarhus University
Image Source:
The image is in the public domain.

Original Research: Closed access
“Premature mortality in persons with epilepsy and schizophrenia: A population‐based nationwide cohort study”. Katrine M. Andersen, Liselotte V. Petersen, Mogens Vestergaard, Carsten B. Pedersen, Jakob Christensen.
Epilepsia. doi:10.1111/epi.15158


Premature mortality in persons with epilepsy and schizophrenia: A population‐based nationwide cohort study

To determine the mortality for persons with epilepsy and schizophrenia by absolute and relative measures.

This is a population‐based nationwide cohort study of persons born in Denmark from 1960 to 1987 who were alive and residing in Denmark on their 25th birthday. We identified persons diagnosed with epilepsy and schizophrenia prior to their 25th birthday and followed them to death, emigration, or December 31, 2012, whichever came first. The primary outcome was overall mortality. Data were analyzed using Cox regressions.

Persons were followed for 24 167 573 person-years; the median was 15 years. The mortality rate ratio was 4.4 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 4.1‐4.7) for persons with epilepsy, 6.6 (95% CI = 6.1‐7.1) for persons with schizophrenia, and 12.8 (95% CI = 9.1‐18.1) for persons with both disorders, compared with persons without these disorders. The estimated cumulative mortality at the age of 50 years was 3.1% (95% CI = 3.0‐3.1) for persons without epilepsy and schizophrenia, 10.7% (95% CI = 9.7‐11.8) for persons with epilepsy, 17.4% (95% CI = 16.0‐18.8) for persons with schizophrenia, and 27.2% (95% CI = 15.7‐40.1) for persons with both disorders.

Persons with epilepsy and schizophrenia have very high mortality; more than one in four persons with both disorders died between the age of 25 and 50 years, indicating that these patients need special clinical attention.

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  1. Not only am I in agreement with Sally, the previous commenter, but this study neglects to take into consideration the atrocities that psychotropic meds can induce in a person’s body. As a mental health consumer, and someone who works in the field, I’ve met quite a few people struggling with physical effects caused by medication: serious effects and not just a Tic or fatigue. Outside of work I met one person who’d been on Seroquel for so long, at such a high dose, they developed a fatal heart arrhythmia. They were twenty four and had been on the medication for psychosis for quite a few years. They were too scared to stop the medication in fear of their psychosis blooming. Obviously this doesn’t happen to everyone. But medication becomes the first resort rather than the last resort. this person hardly had any connection to the community, wasn’t feeling supported by anyone, was struggling with voices, and rather than listen to what they told their doctor they needed, the doctors simply threw more and more drugs at them hoping it would stop the voices. So, I absolutely despise when I read studies like this that start claiming mental health issues have a high mortality rate without being specific why. Yeah, because treatment is horrendous and suicide is real. It has nothing to do with the health issues itself, it’s how people are being treated. Rant, end.

  2. Have they considered the idea of an autoimmune encephalitis which can cause both psychiatric and seizures? Many patients with this disease are treated with immune suppressants and their health improves. It is being discovered that many psychiatric patients actually have autoimmune encephalitis. It is too bad with such a big study this condition was not even considered.

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