How many people have epilepsy and seizures?

Epilepsy and seizures can develop in any person at any age. Epilepsy is more common in young children and older people. Slightly more men than women have epilepsy.

About 1 in 100 people will have an unprovoked seizure in their lifetime.

1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy (recurring seizures) in their lifetime. The risk is higher for people with certain conditions.

Each year, about 1 in 2,000 people will develop epilepsy. Seizures may happen more often in different age groups (very young children and older adults), in different races, and in different areas of the world.

At any one point in time, between 2.2 and 3 million people in the United States are being treated for epilepsy.

Epilepsy is the 4th most common neurological condition. Epilepsy affects more than 65 million people worldwide.

When are people most likely to get epilepsy?

New cases of epilepsy are most common in children, especially from birth to age 1. The rate of new cases of epilepsy gradually goes down until about age 10 and then stays about the same for teens and adults.

The rate of new cases of epilepsy is also higher in people over age 55. Older adults are more likely to have a stroke or develop brain tumors or Alzheimer's disease, which can all cause epilepsy.

Does epilepsy happen more often after traumatic brain injury?

Yes, seizures do happen often after a traumatic injury to the brain. This may include a fall, blow to the head, gunshot wound or other traumatic injury.

Seizures can happen early after the injury, within a few days or weeks of the traumatic incident. These seizures usually happen because the injury caused bleeding, trauma or swelling of the brain. These early seizures may go away after the injury starts to heal.

Seizures can also happen later on, after the injury has resolved or been treated. If the injury caused scarring to the brain, the brain cells don’t work the same way as before. These changes can cause seizures. This is called post-traumatic epilepsy.

Members of the armed forces who have been in combat are particularly vulnerable to post-traumatic epilepsy. More than 1 in 2 soldiers who had brain injuries during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom are at risk for post-traumatic epilepsy. To learn more, visit our Veterans page.

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

Some studies have found differences. A review of research on racial differences in epilepsy suggests that:

  • Epilepsy is more common in people of Hispanic background than in non-Hispanics.
  • Active epilepsy, where the person’s seizures are not completely controlled, is more common in whites than in blacks.
  • Blacks are more likely than whites to develop epilepsy during their lifetime (this is called “lifetime prevalence”).
  • About 3 in 200 Asian Americans are living with epilepsy today.

We don’t know what causes these differences. They may be related to social and economic factors, or to how easily people can get health care. For example, people with lower socioeconomic status are more likely to develop seizures and epilepsy.

There are differences between people of different racial backgrounds in where and when they get health care for their epilepsy. These differences lead to what is called a “treatment gap.” It’s possible that this treatment gap is part of the reason 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: 
Patricia O. Shafer RN, MN
Authored Date: 
09/2014