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Kids Speak Up! Epilepsy Fact Sheet

Kids Speak Up! logoEpilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the United States after Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.  It is equal in prevalence to cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease combined. Despite modern therapy, about one million people continue to experience seizures or significant side effects from treatment. An Epilepsy Foundation report published in 2004 revealed that epilepsy costs the nation more than $15.5 billion a year in healthcare and losses in employment, wages and productivity.

Epilepsy is a generic term used to define a family of seizure disorders. A person with recurring seizures is said to have epilepsy. A seizure is a brief disturbance of electrical activity in the brain. Twenty-five million Americans (one in every ten) have had, or will have, a seizure at some point in their lives.

Prevalence: More than 2.7 million people in the U.S. have some form of epilepsy. Thirty percent of them are children under the age of 18. A large number of children and adults have undetected or untreated epilepsy.

Incidence: About 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy are diagnosed each year.

Age of Onset: Epilepsy strikes most often among the very young and the very old, although anyone can get it at any age. In the U.S., it currently affects more than 326,000 children under age fifteen and more than 90,000 of them
have severe seizures that cannot be adequately treated.

Causes: In about 70 percent of cases there is no known cause. Of the remaining 30 percent, the following are most frequent:

  • Brain tumor and stroke;
  • Head trauma, especially from automobile accidents, gunshot wounds, sports accidents, falls and blows at work or in the home. The more severe the injury, the greater the risk of developing epilepsy;
  • Poisoning, such as lead poisoning and substance abuse. For example, more than 5,000 persons each year are reported to suffer seizures caused by alcoholism;
  • Infections like meningitis, viral encephalitis, lupus erythematosus and, less frequently, mumps, measles, diphtheria and other infections; and
  • Maternal injury, infection or systemic illness affecting the developing brain of the fetus during pregnancy.

Role of Heredity: All people inherit varying degrees of susceptibility to seizures. The genetic factor is assumed to be greater when no specific cause can be identified.

A Worldwide Problem: The World Health Organization estimates there are 40 million to 50 million people with epilepsy throughout the world. The annual incidence in third world nations is twice that of the United States (100/100,000 compared to 50/100,000). In many countries the condition remains a stigmatizing condition surrounded with mystical beliefs and social taboos. On a global basis, an astonishing three fourths of people with epilepsy receive no treatment for their seizures.