Rates of Epilepsy Remain Stable in the United States

Approximately 1 in 100 adults in the United States have active epilepsy. (Image: murat sarica/iStockphoto.com)

Analysis of 2010 data suggests an estimated 1.0% of adults in the United States have active epilepsy. This percentage has remained stable since prevalence estimates were last calculated in 1994 using the same survey tool. The findings appear in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The MMWR study analyzed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey and also found that 1.9% of adults living in families with annual income levels of less than $35 000 had active epilepsy. In addition, the report found only 52.8% of adults with active epilepsy reported seeing a neurologic specialist in the preceding 12 months. The report added that 0.8% of adults had inactive epilepsy, defined as having a history of epilepsy but not taking medication for the condition and not having had a seizure in the past year.

Epilepsy, or seizure disorder, is a neurologic condition characterized by a tendency to have recurrent seizures. New cases of epilepsy are most common in children and older adults, and risk factors are most common in these age groups. Preventable causes of epilepsy include traumatic brain injuries, stroke, cerebral infections, lead exposure, and perinatal complications. Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurologic disorder in the United States, following migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer disease.

The fact that only about half of adults with active epilepsy have seen a neurologist or an epilepsy specialist in the past 12 months confirms a treatment gap found in previous surveys, said the authors of the MMWR article. They noted that epilepsy is a spectrum of disorders requiring adequate access to appropriate care to ensure effective treatment for improving seizure control and quality of life. They added that cultural beliefs and practices, referral to and availability of specialty care, transportation barriers, and cost might affect access to specialty care.

A report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Epilepsy Across the Spectrum: Promoting Health and Understanding, stresses that although effective treatments are available for many types of epilepsy, timely referral and access to those treatments are lacking. The IOM report also calls for thorough education of persons with epilepsy and their families, to include health literacy and cultural considerations, and the elimination of stigma of epilepsy.

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month. For more information, visit the Epilepsy Foundation website.

Categories: Epilepsy, Neurology