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Epilepsy statistics 2021

One in 26 people will develop epilepsy, as it's the fourth most common neurological disorder in the world. Get updated epilepsy stats here.

What is epilepsy? | How common is epilepsy? | Global epilepsy stats | U.S. epilepsy stats | Epilepsy stats by age | Epilepsy stats by race and ethnicity | Epilepsy stats by seizure type | Common complications | Costs | Causes | Prevention | Treatment | FAQs | Research

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders worldwide. According to the CDC, just over 1% of the U.S. population has epilepsy. About 50 million people around the world have epilepsy, as reported by the World Health Organization. This is more than the number of people with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and cerebral palsy combined.

“The WHO also reports that in high-income countries, about 49 out of 100,000 people are diagnosed annually with epilepsy versus 139 people in low- and middle-income countries,” says Rebecca Spiegel, MD, an epileptologist and chief of Stony Brook Comprehensive Level 4 Epilepsy Center. “The reasons for this major disparity include higher prevalence of endemic conditions such as neurocysticercosis, more traffic injuries, and birth-related injuries. The WHO estimates that close to 80% of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries.”

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent seizures. A seizure is excess electrical activity in the brain that causes different symptoms depending on the part of the brain that is affected. For example, some people experience a loss of consciousness and dramatic shaking movements (called “tonic-clonic” or grand mal seizures), whereas others may stare blankly into space, known as absence seizures. For some other people, only one part of the brain and the body is affected.

Epilepsy affects people of all ages. Some people with epilepsy also have memory problems, learning disabilities, or mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.

“It’s important to note that some seizures are not due to abnormalities in the brain itself but rather due to abnormal whole-body condition,” explains Dr. Spiegel. “Such abnormalities include low oxygen, low sugar, or a significant electrolyte imbalance in the body. Seizures that are caused by whole-body abnormalities rather than a specific brain problem are not counted in the diagnosis of epilepsy and thus having seizures does not necessarily mean that one has epilepsy.”

Epilepsy diagnosis typically involves a neurological exam, bloodwork, and a variety of tests that look for abnormalities in brain function. These may include electroencephalogram (EEG), CT, MRI, and PET scans.

How common is epilepsy?

  • Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological condition worldwide.
  • One in 26 people will develop epilepsy.
  • About 48 of every 100,000 people are diagnosed with epilepsy each year.

Epilepsy Foundation, 2014

Epilepsy statistics worldwide

  • Epilepsy affects approximately 50 million people worldwide. (World Health Organization, 2019)
  • The prevalence of idiopathic (unknown cause) epilepsy increased 6% from the year 1990 to 2016. (The Lancet, 2016)

Epilepsy statistics in U.S.

  • About 470,000 children have active epilepsy in the United States. (CDC, 2020)
  • About 3 million adults in the United States have active epilepsy. (CDC, 2020)
  • The incidence of epilepsy in U.S. seniors is up to 240 per 100,000 per year. (Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2016)

Epilepsy statistics by age

  • Epilepsy can develop at any age.
  • New cases of epilepsy are most common in children, particularly from birth to age 1.
  • The rate of new cases of epilepsy decreases from age 1 to age 10 and then stays about the same for teens and adults.
  • New cases of epilepsy are also higher in adults age 55 and older. This population is at a higher risk of epilepsy causes such as stroke, brain tumors, or Alzheimer’s disease.

Epilepsy Foundation, 2014

Epilepsy statistics by race and ethnicity

  • People of Hispanic descent are more likely to have epilepsy than non-Hispanic people. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2014)
  • Active epilepsy is more common in white people than in Black people. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2014)
  • In 2014, about 3 in 200 Asian Americans were living with epilepsy. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2014)
  • About 375,000 African Americans have active epilepsy. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2015)

Epilepsy statistics by seizure type

  • Tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal) are the most common type of generalized (affecting the whole body) seizures. (Cedars Sinai, 2021)
  • Temporal lobe seizures, a kind of focal (starts in one part of the brain) seizure, are the most common type of epilepsy. (NYU Langone Health, 2021) 
  • Frontal lobe seizures are the second most common form of epilepsy. (NYU Langone Health, 2021)
  • Parietal lobe seizures make up only 5% of all forms of epilepsy. (NYU Langone Health, 2021)
  • About 5% of all epileptic seizures are occipital lobe seizures. (NYU Langone Health, 2021)
  • Between 2% and 8% of people with epilepsy have absence seizures. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2013)

Common epilepsy complications

Epilepsy can have a significant effect on quality of life for people who experience seizures as well as for their family members and friends.

People with epilepsy may feel afraid that they will have a seizure at a public event or when meeting new people. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety may accompany epilepsy.

  • Each year, approximately 100,000 to 120,000 children are hospitalized in the U.S. for epilepsy-related conditions. (Seizure – European Journal of Epilepsy, 2020)
  • Epilepsy is associated with an increased risk of fractures and bruises. (World Health Organization, 2019)
  • People who have epilepsy are more likely to have psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression. (World Health Organization, 2019)
  • Almost 50% of those with epilepsy also have a learning disability. (Learning Disabilities Association of America, 2021)
  • People with epilepsy experience stigma and discrimination in many parts of the world. (World Health Organization, 2019)

The cost of epilepsy

  • Overall healthcare costs for someone with epilepsy in the U.S. ranges from $10,192 to $47,862 per year. (Epilepsia, 2015)
  • Epilepsy-specific costs ranges from $1,022 to $19,749 per year. (Epilepsia, 2015)
  • The direct costs of epilepsy amount to an estimated $28 billion in the U.S. each year. (AJMC, 2020)
  • The National Institutes of Health spends approximately $158 million on epilepsy research each year. (Epilepsy Foundation, 2017)
  • The United States spends approximately $15.5 billion on epilepsy each year. (Cure Epilepsy, 2021)

Causes of epilepsy

Although there are many known causes, it’s not always possible to determine the reason a person develops epilepsy. According to the World Health Organization, around 50% of epilepsy cases have an unknown cause. 

A popular theory about epilepsy with an unknown cause is that there may have been an earlier brain injury or illness. Other theories suggest a genetic predisposition, an event that caused a lack of oxygen to the brain, or other factors.

The known underlying causes of epilepsy include:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Vascular abnormalities
  • Brain infections 
  • Brain tumors
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain 
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic problems
  • Immune system disorders
  • Dementia
  • Some genetic conditions

Epilepsy prevention

There is currently no way to prevent or cure epilepsy, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. However, there are ways to minimize the frequency and risk of seizures. These precautions include:

  • Make sure to take prescribed medications as directed by your healthcare team
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Ensure you’re getting quality sleep
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other substances that may affect the brain
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Use protective gear when playing sports or participating in strenuous activities
  • Keep a first-aid kit available for emergencies, including seizures

There are national organizations, institutes, and government agencies working to treat and research epilepsy. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is doing this by improving methods to identify epilepsy risk factors and developing new treatments.

“Along with the National Institutes of Health, there are some other important organizations that help fund epilepsy research,” Dr. Spiegel says. “These include Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), the Epilepsy Foundation, and the American Epilepsy Society.”

These foundations aim to decrease the impact of epilepsy by funding research and providing support for those living with epilepsy.

Treating epilepsy

The goal of treatment in epilepsy syndromes is to decrease the number of seizures and to promote a seizure-free life. Antiepileptic medications (AEDs), surgery, and device therapies such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) and vagus nerve stimulation are the most common epilepsy treatments

Several types of antiepileptic drugs are used to treat epilepsy. These include:

Common side effects from epilepsy medications include dizziness, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, and mood changes.

Diet and lifestyle changes, such as a ketogenic diet, may help control seizures in some people with epilepsy. For many, lack of sleep and excess stress can trigger seizures. A comprehensive treatment plan may include stress management and relaxation techniques.

Clinical trials offer another option for people with epilepsy. During a clinical trial, you may receive a new kind of medication or form of therapy. Clinical trials also help scientists develop and improve new treatments.

Epilepsy questions and answers

What percent of the population has epilepsy?

A total of 1.2% of people in the United States had active epilepsy in 2015, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization reports around 50 million people with epilepsy around the world.

What is the mortality rate of epilepsy?

The risk of premature death is up to three times higher for those with epilepsy when compared to the general population, according to the World Health Organization. There are more than 1,000 new cases of sudden unexpected death related to epilepsy (SUDEP) each year, as reported by the Epilepsy Foundation.

Why is epilepsy so common?

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders. Because the neurons (nerve cells) in our brains are highly sensitive and specialized, there are many conditions that can damage them. And because those same nerve cells control our bodies, when they begin to fire incorrectly, different symptoms can occur.

What percentage of epilepsy is genetic?

About 30% to 40% of epilepsy is caused by genetic predisposition, according to University of Chicago Medicine. First-degree relatives of those who have an inherited form of epilepsy are up to four times more likely to develop the condition.

Epilepsy research