Epilepsy Facts

Did you know?

What Is Epilepsy?

Of major chronic medical conditions, epilepsy is among the least understood, even though one in three adults knows someone with the disorder.

Epilepsy — sometimes called a seizure disorder — is a chronic unpredictable neurological condition characterized by intermittent electrical and chemical disturbances in the brain that cause seizures which affect awareness, movement, or sensation. Epilepsy is not mental illness. Epilepsy is not mental retardation. Any one at any time at any age can have a seizure. Epilepsy is not a single entity, but a family of more than 40 syndromes that affects more than 3 million people in the U.S. and 50 million worldwide. In 70 percent of cases, the cause of epilepsy is unknown.

Epilepsy Compared
Epilepsy Compared

Epilepsy is equal in prevalence to cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease combined.

Fact #1
Fact #1

You can’t swallow your tongue during a seizure. It’s physically impossible.

Fact #2
Fact #2

You should NEVER force something into the mouth of someone having a seizure.

Fact #3
Fact #3

Epilepsy is NOT contagious. You simply can’t catch epilepsy from another person.

Who Has Epilepsy?


People in the U.S.

Will be diagnosed this year in the U.S.

People Worldwide

Even with exciting breakthroughs in research and treatment, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States.

Epilepsy does not discriminate. It can affect children, adults, seniors, men and woman, people of all races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and social classes at any time. One in ten people will experience a seizure at some point in their lives. Thirty to forty percent of people with epilepsy are severely affected and continue to have seizures despite treatment.

Although anyone can get it at any age, epilepsy strikes most often among the very young and the very old. In the U.S. more than 326,000 children under the age of 15 are affected. The number of cases in the elderly is beginning to soar as the baby boom generation approaches retirement age. Currently, more than 570,000 adults ages 65 and above in the U.S. have the condition.


One in 26 people in will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime.

Epilepsy is prevalent among those with other disabilities, such as autism (25.5 percent), cerebral palsy (13 percent), Down’s syndrome (13.6 percent), and mental retardation (25.5 percent)—while 40 percent of people who have both cerebral palsy and mental retardation also have epilepsy. The association between epilepsy and depression is especially strong. More than one of every three persons with epilepsy are also affected by the mood disorder, and people with a history of depression are 3 to 7 times more likely to develop epilepsy than the average person.

Epilepsy imposes an annual economic burden of $15.5 billion on the nation in associated health care costs and losses in employment, wages and productivity. Epilepsy and its treatment produce a health-related quality of life—measured in days of activity limitation, pain, depression, anxiety, reduced vitality and insufficient sleep or rest—similar to arthritis, heart problems, diabetes and cancer. Surveys of people with epilepsy show that their greatest concerns are societal expectations (stigma, discrimination, negative attitudes) coupled with issues of transportation, unemployment, health, and safety concerns.

The mortality rate among people with epilepsy is 2 to 3 times higher—and the risk of sudden death is 24 times greater—than that of the general population. This year an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 will die of seizures and related causes, including status epilepticus (non-stop seizures), sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), drowning and other accidents.