Page Summary

  • Epilepsy and seizures can develop in any person at any age.
  • 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime.
  • Factors such as other health conditions, age, and race may make developing epilepsy and seizures more likely.
  • Epilepsy and seizures can develop in any person at any age. Seizures and epilepsy are more common in young children and older people.
  • About 1 in 100 people will have a single unprovoked seizure or has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy (which is the tendency to recurring seizures) in their lifetime. People with certain conditions may be at greater risk. (See "What causes epilepsy?")
  • Each year, about 48 of every 100,000 people or 4.8 of every 1,000 people will develop epilepsy. However, seizures may occur more often in different age groups (very young and older people), in different races, and in different areas of the world.
  • At any one point in time, between 2.2 and 3 million people are treated for epilepsy.
    • The 2.2 million figure comes from a study of people in Rochester, Minnesota, who were followed for many years. This data is outdated and we aren’t sure how true the number is now.
    • The higher number of 3 million people comes from a telephone survey of people who report that they have been treated for epilepsy. 
  • Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological condition and epilepsy affects more than 65 million people worldwide,
  • More men than women have epilepsy overall by a small amount.

When are people most likely to get epilepsy?

  • New cases of epilepsy are most common among children, especially during the first year of life.
  • The rate of new cases of epilepsy gradually goes down until about age 10 and then becomes stable.
  • After age 55, the rate of new cases of epilepsy starts to increase, as people develop strokes, brain tumors, or Alzheimer's disease, which all can cause epilepsy.

Does epilepsy occur more often in people after traumatic brain injury?

  • Yes, seizures do happen frequently in people who have had a traumatic injury to the brain. This may include a fall, blow to the head, gunshot wound or other traumatic injury.
  • Seizures can occur early after the injury, for example within days to the first few weeks of the initial trauma. These seizures are usually the result of the initial event that cause bleeding, trauma or swelling of the brain. These early seizures may go away after the acute injury calms down.
  • Seizures can also occur later on after the acute injury has resolved or been treated. These seizures are caused by scarring to the brain from the initial injury. The brain cells are not working as they did before, and are capable of producing ‘electrical storms’ known as seizures. When these seizures occur independently from the initial injury, a person is said to have post-traumatic epilepsy (meaning seizures caused by or occurring after brain trauma).
    • Members of the armed forces who have been in combat are particularly vulnerable to post-traumatic epilepsy.  For example, up to 53% of soldiers who had brain injuries during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are at risk for post-traumatic epilepsy. 
    • For more information, visit our Veterans page. 

Does epilepsy occur more often in people of certain races or ethnic backgrounds?

Some differences in how often epilepsy occurs has been seen in a few studies. A review of research about the racial differences in epilepsy suggests that:

  • Epilepsy is more common in people of Hispanic background than in non-Hispanics.
  • Active epilepsy (which means that the person’s seizures are not completely controlled) is more common in whites than in blacks.
  • The numbers of people who develop epilepsy over a lifetime (called lifetime prevalence) is higher in blacks than in whites.
  • An estimated 1.5 percent of Asian Americans are living with epilepsy today.  
  • The cause(s) of these differences is unknown. It may be related to social and economic factors or the ability of people to get health care. For example:
    • People with lower socioeconomic status have a higher rate of developing seizures and epilepsy
    • Differences in where and when people get health care for their epilepsy has been found for people of different racial backgrounds.
    • These differences lead to what is called a ‘treatment gap’. It’s possible that this treatment gaps is part of the reasons for racial differences in epilepsy.

 

References:
Hirtz D, Thurman DJ, Gwinn-Hardy K, et al. 2007. How common are the "common" neurologic disorders? Neurology, 68(5):326-337.

NINDS, 2007. Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope through research. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/detail_epilepsy.htm.

IOM (Institute of Medicine), 2012. Epilepsy Across the Spectrum: Promoting health and understanding.  Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 7/2013
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 3/2014
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