Epilepsy in U.S. Adults
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures. Seizures produce momentary changes in awareness, involuntary movements, or convulsions. Epilepsy is caused by different conditions that affect a person’s brain. Adults with active epilepsy have been diagnosed by a health professional and either have had at least one seizure in the past year or are currently taking medicine for a seizure disorder.
Although many people with epilepsy live full, productive lives, some face challenges including barriers to care, untreated co-occurring disorders (e.g., depression), social disadvantages (e.g., unemployment), and public misunderstanding about epilepsy or the abilities of people with epilepsy. These and other challenges can contribute to health disparities in people with epilepsy.
To estimate epilepsy prevalence among adults 18 years or older, CDC analyzed data from the 2010 National Health Interview Survey, which is an annual household survey of the U.S. population. Of 27,139 sampled adults, 480 (1.8%, representing about 4.1 million adults) reported ever being told they had epilepsy or a seizure disorder. Of these, 275 adults (1%, representing about 2.3 million adults) had active epilepsy.
The 2010 data showed that adults with active epilepsy were more likely to live in households with lower annual incomes (≤$34,999). Only about one-half (53%) of adults with active epilepsy had seen a neurologist or epilepsy specialist in the past 12 months, suggesting that many adults with active epilepsy have not received appropriate care in the past year.
Age-adjusted Prevalence of Active Epilepsy by Annual Household Income
Annual Total Combined Family Income
$100,000 and over
Source: 2010 National Health Interview Survey
Notes. *Active epilepsy is defined as adults who were told by a health professional that they have epilepsy or a seizure disorder, and either are currently taking medicine for their epilepsy or seizure disorder or had 1 or more seizures in the past year.
±Because the relative standard error exceeds 30%, the estimate is unreliable.
The sample size is unweighted; percentages and confidence intervals are based on weighted estimates.
Kobau R, Luo YH, PhD, Zack MM, Helmers S, Thurman DJ. Epilepsy in adults and access to care — United States, 2012. MMWR 2012;61(45);909-913. html
Applying what we know
The findings in this study indicate that epilepsy is a common disorder among community-dwelling U.S. adults and identify economic disparities in its occurrence. Public health agencies can work with Epilepsy Foundation state affiliates and other health and human service providers to eliminate known barriers to care for people with epilepsy.
- MMWR—Epilepsy in adults and access to care—United States, 2012.
- Learn more about the MEW Network.
- Find additional information on epilepsy.
- Learn about epilepsy first-aid
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