More Americans Have Epilepsy Than Ever Before

The number of U.S. adults and children with epilepsy is increasing, with at least 3.4 million people living with the disorder, according to data released today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It’s the first time epilepsy estimates have been available for every state.

The data show the disorder is widespread. In 2015, about 3 million U.S. adults and 470,000 children had active epilepsy (under treatment or with recent seizures). The number of adults with active epilepsy rose from 2.3 million in 2010 to 3 million in 2015. The number of children with the condition increased from 450,000 in 2007 to 470,000 in 2015. These increases are likely due to population growth.

“Millions of Americans are impacted by epilepsy, and unfortunately, this study shows cases are on the rise,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. “Proper diagnosis is key to finding an effective treatment – and at CDC we are committed to researching, testing, and sharing strategies that will improve the lives of people with epilepsy.”

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures. Different conditions can cause epilepsy, such as stroke, brain tumor, head injury, central nervous system infections, or genetic risks. Although epilepsy is widely recognized by the public, few people understand it, even among those who know someone with the disorder.

Key findings from analysis of epilepsy rates

The CDC study provides national and state-specific estimates of epilepsy prevalence based on the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, and the National Survey of Children’s Health, and the 2014 Current Population Survey.

  • Overall, 1.2 percent of the U.S. population (3.4 million people) reported active epilepsy in 2015.
  • The number of cases of active epilepsy among adults ranged from 5,100 in Wyoming to 367,900 in California.
  • The number of epilepsy cases among children ranged from 800 in Wyoming to 59,800 in California.
  • Eleven states had more than an estimated 92,000 people with epilepsy.
  • Data from 2010-2015 indicate increases in the number of persons with active epilepsy, probably because of population growth.

CDC researchers and others have previously reported that many adults with epilepsy face challenges including work limitations, difficulty finding transportation, and difficulty affording medical care. Students with epilepsy are more likely to fall behind in school and to need special education services. Children with epilepsy are more likely to live in low-income households.

“Epilepsy is common, complex to live with, and costly. It can lead to early death if not appropriately treated,” said Rosemarie Kobau, M.P.H, head of CDC’s Epilepsy Program. “Everyone should know how to recognize a seizure and how to give appropriate first aid.”

Recognizing seizures

There are at least 30 different types of seizures. Sometimes it is hard to tell that a person is having a seizure. People having some types of seizures may seem confused or look like they are staring at something that isn’t there. Other seizures can cause people to fall, shake, and become unaware of what’s going on around them.

First aid for seizures involves keeping the person safe until the seizure stops on its own and knowing when to call 911 for emergency assistance.

People should share concerns about their seizure symptoms with their doctors. A person with epilepsy who has uncontrolled seizures may want to see a neurologist specifically trained to treat epilepsy. Health care providers should learn more about how to classify seizures and treat epilepsy appropriately.

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