New epilepsy research shows an increased chance of death for patients with declining medication-taking habits


Image: Associate Professor Wendyl D’Souza

Epilepsy patients who slowly deteriorate in taking their prescribed medication have an increased chance of death than those who don’t, research has found.

Deputy Director of Neurology at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (SVHM), Associate Professor Wendyl D’Souza, is leading this study that shows patients who start off taking their medications well but then steadily decline, have an eight times increased risk of dying within three years.

“It was a surprising and very robust finding,” A/Prof D’Souza says.

The big data linkage study anonymously tracked 1400 epilepsy outpatients from SVHM over a six-year period. National health services, prescription and mortality data were sourced anonymously to determine how regularly these patients took their medication and its impact on their life span.

Habits that influence health

The research looks at whether people are taking their medications consistently and what level of use may be unsafe.

“What we found was about 50 per cent didn’t take their medicines well, but only the 25 per cent who started well and subsequently deteriorated had an increased chance of death.” says A/Prof D’Souza, who adds the reasons for declining adherence in patients with epilepsy remain speculative.

A/Prof D’Souza hopes this research will lead to developing new techniques to help monitor and alert epilepsy patients to better manage their treatment habits.

The study findings were presented at the European Epilepsy Congress in Switzerland earlier this year.

Benefits of big data research

In a separate, but thematically-linked study, A/Prof D’Souza explains how big data research can be used to identify patients with psychologically-based seizure-like behaviour who have an increased risk of death that is similar to people with epilepsy.

This particular piece of research explores why this may be happening and the risks for this group of patients.

The research highlights that patients who experience psychologically-based seizure-like episodes have four times more disease labels, which are largely psychiatric and pain-related, than people with epilepsy. It also found that these conditions are the key contributing factors to their increased risk of death.

The findings were also presented at this year’s European Epilepsy Congress and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Neurologists in Melbourne, held in May.

Read about research activity underway at St Vincent’s in our 2022 SVHM Research Report.