January 12, 2024

Seizures Identified as Potential Cause of Sudden Unexplained Deaths in Children

Article published by NYU Langone Health

In a study designed to better understand sudden unexpected deaths in young children, which usually occur during sleep, researchers have identified brief seizures accompanied by muscle convulsions as a potential cause. The study findings come from a registry of more than 300 cases of sudden unexplained death in children (SUDC) at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. Researchers used extensive medical record analysis and video evidence donated by families to document the inexplicable deaths of seven toddlers that were potentially attributable to seizures. For decades, researchers have sought an explanation to sudden death events in children, noticing a link between those with a history of febrile seizures (seizures accompanied by fever). Earlier research had reported that children who died suddenly and unexpectedly were 10 times more likely to have had febrile seizures than children who did not die suddenly and unexpectedly. Febrile seizures are also noted in one-third of SUDC cases registered at NYU Langone Health. Published in the journal Neurology, the new study involved an analysis of the rare SUDC cases for which there were home video recordings. “Our study, although small, offers the first direct evidence that seizures may be responsible for some sudden deaths in children, which are usually unwitnessed during sleep,” said study lead investigator Laura Gould, MSc, MA, PT, a research assistant professor at NYU Langone. Gould points out that if not for the video evidence, the death investigations would not have implicated a seizure. “These findings show that seizures are much more common than patients’ medical histories suggest, and that further research is needed to determine if seizures are frequent occurrences in sleep-related deaths in toddlers, and potentially in infants, older children, and adults,” said study senior investigator and neurologist Orrin Devinsky, MD.