Having Both Autism and Epilepsy Linked to Raised Death Rates

Study found nearly 40% of brain tissue donors with autism also had epilepsy

FRIDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- People with both autism and epilepsy have a much higher death rate than those with autism alone, a new study finds.

Researchers examined brain tissue donated to the Autism Speaks Autism Tissue Program, and found that 39 percent of the donors with autism also had epilepsy, which is significantly higher than the estimated rate of epilepsy among the general autism population.

The study authors also examined data from the California State Department of Developmental Services, and found that people with both autism and epilepsy have an 800 percent higher death rate than those with autism alone.

The findings are published in the April 15 issue of the Journal of Child Neurology.

"This study highlights the importance of early identification of epilepsy in children with autism and of autism in children with epilepsy," Dr. Roberto Tuchman, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital and member of the Autism Speaks Scientific Advisory Council, said in an Autism Speaks news release.

"The findings of this study should motivate the autism and epilepsy communities to increase their understanding of the risk factors and common mechanisms that can lead to epilepsy, autism or both epilepsy and autism. Understanding these early determinants will allow for the development of effective interventions and preventive measures and ultimately better outcomes for children with autism and epilepsy," Tuchman said.

"Sudden, unexpected or unexplained death in autism is often, but not always related to epilepsy and we need to use caution when interpreting these data," Clara Lajonchere, vice president of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, added in the news release. "These findings are important for understanding risk factors that may contribute to early death in individuals with autism and further underscore the need for more accurate and accessible records on cause of death in this population."

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

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