helpline 01494 601 400
08 April 2016

Scientists identify genetic link between heart conditions and SUDEP

A study has found that there is a possible link between sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) and heart problems.

Scientists from the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne spent three years analysing the DNA of 64 people who died from SUDEP and found that a significant proportion of them had a genetic fault that caused an irregular heartbeat.

Richard Bagnall, the Centenary Institute's senior research officer who led the study, said: "These people didn't know that they had a heart problem, so in our future studies we'd like to monitor patients with epilepsy and then if they do [die from] SUDEP we can retrospectively look back and see if they really did have any heart problems."

50 per cent chance of inheriting gene fault

"These gene faults are inherited and so there's a 50 per cent chance that a family member will also inherit the gene fault, so it's important that they are screened," Dr Bagnall said.

By analysing a person with epilepsy’s genes, medical professionals may, in the future, be able to identify the heightened risk of SUDEP in advance, paving the way for prevention.

Genetic sequencing is playing an increasingly important role in healthcare, and at Epilepsy Society, researchers have identified that there is a genetic  link between SUDEP and epilepsy.

Professor Sanjay Sisodiya comments

Sanjay Sisodiya, director of genomics at Epilepsy Society and professor of neurology at University College London, commented: "It is vital that we understand the genetic architecture of both the epilepsies and  heart disorders that may help us to predict those at greatest risk of SUDEP. Ultimately we hope that our research will lead to the prevention of sudden death in epilepsy in the future."