African Americans and Epilepsy

One in 26 could be anyone. Epilepsy strikes regardless of race.
Epilepsy and the African American Community

More people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy combined. But silence, fear and myths around epilepsy persist in every community, including African American communities.

Lack of awareness about the condition, challenges accessing health care and health information, and misinformation and fear associated with the condition make it hard for many African Americans with epilepsy and their families to live full and healthy lives.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 637,000 African Americans have been told by a physician or health care professional that they had epilepsy or a seizure disorder. About 375,000 African Americans have active epilepsy, which means they have been told they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder and are taking seizure medication or had at least one seizure in the past year. Over 20,000 African Americans are diagnosed with seizures or epilepsy each year.

African Americans are also:

  • More likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy in an emergency room than white Americans*
  • More likely to develop epilepsy over a lifetime (called lifetime prevalence) than white Americans*
  • Likely to experience status epilepticus, a medical emergency in which a seizure continues for 5 minutes or more without stopping
  • Less likely to experience active epilepsy (which means that the person’s seizures are not completely controlled) than white Americans*
Epilepsy and the African American Community


U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013.

CDC. MMWR 2012, Nov 16;61(45):909-913.

National Research Council. (2012). Epilepsy Across the Spectrum: Promoting Health and Understanding. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Facts About Epilepsy

Life with Epilepsy

Jason Snelling

News Release, "NFL Star Jason Snelling Speaks Up About Living With Epilepsy," November 15, 2010


Raising Awareness


Denise Pease

"I want my blessings of recovery and employment to inspire others living with a disability.”

– Denise Pease, in "Denise Pease's Story: A 21st Century Government," The White House Blog

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Reviewed By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
Wednesday, February 4, 2015