Epilepsy Fast Facts
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures. These seizures are not caused by a temporary underlying medical condition such as a high fever.
Epilepsy can affect people in very different ways. This is because there are many causes and many different kinds of seizures. Some people may have multiple types of seizures or other medical conditions in addition to epilepsy. These factors play a major role in determining both the severity of the person’s condition and the impact it has on his or her life.
The way a seizure looks depends on the type of seizure a person is experiencing. Some seizures can look like staring spells. Other seizures can cause a person to collapse, shake, and become unaware of what’s going on around them.
Epilepsy can be caused by different conditions that affect a person’s brain. Many times the cause is unknown. Some causes include:
A person with epilepsy is not contagious and cannot give epilepsy to another person.
In 2015, 1.2% of the total US population had active epilepsy.1
This is about 3.4 million people with epilepsy nationwide: 3 million adults and 470,000 children.1
According to the latest estimates, about 0.6% of children aged 0-17 years have active epilepsy.1,2 Think of a school with 1,000 students—this means about 6 of them could have epilepsy.
Learn more about active epilepsy and find state-specific prevalence estimates on our Data and Statistics page.
a Active epilepsy is defined as adults, participating in the 2015 NHIS, who reported a history of doctor-diagnosed epilepsy or seizure disorder and either were currently taking medication to control it, or had one or more seizures in the past year, or both.1
- Zack MM, Kobau R. National and state estimates of the numbers of adults and children with active epilepsy — United States, 2015. MMWR. 2017;66:821–825. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6631a1.
- Russ SA, Larson K, Halfon N. A national profile of childhood epilepsy and seizure disorder. Pediatrics 2012;129:256-264. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-1371.