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One of the Nation's Most Common Disabling Neurological Conditions

Epilepsy is a general term that includes various types of seizures. People with diagnosed epilepsy have had more than one seizure, and they may have had more than one kind of seizure. A seizure happens when abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes an involuntary change in body movement or function, sensation, awareness, or behavior.

Epilepsy affects about 2.7 million Americans, and results in an estimated annual cost of $15.5 billion in medical costs and lost or reduced earnings and production. People of all ages are affected, but particularly the very young and the elderly. About 10% of Americans will experience a seizure sometime during their lifetime, and about 3% will have had a diagnosis of epilepsy by age 80.

The first national conference on public health and epilepsy, Living Well with Epilepsy I, convened in 1997. The conference was co-sponsored by CDC, the American Epilepsy Society (AES), the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC), and the Epilepsy Foundation (EF). This conference defined the aim of epilepsy treatment as "no seizures, no side effects." Its key messages can be summarized as: "take seizures seriously, do it early, do it right the first time, be systematic, efficient and effective, and empower the patient."

Participants collaborated on developing a list of priority epilepsy concerns ranging from researching the evaluation and care of patients having a first seizure to combating stigmatization and reducing disabilities associated with epilepsy. This list of priority concerns was the impetus for developing CDC epilepsy programs directed at improving care; improving communication and combating stigma; self-management; surveillance and prevention research; increasing public awareness and knowledge about epilepsy; and strengthening partnerships.

Living Well with Epilepsy II, held on July 30-31, 2003, was co-sponsored by CDC, AES, NAEC, EF, and the Chronic Disease Directors. The aim of this conference was to review progress since Living Well with Epilepsy I, and to recommend priorities for a public health agenda on epilepsy for the next 5 years, focusing on early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment; epidemiology and surveillance; self-management; and quality of life. An additional aim was to identify other needs and challenges that might be addressed by the epilepsy community and those who support it. Examples of CDC activities include those listed under Program Activities.

Key Public Health Issues

  • The goal of eliminating seizures, while at the same time preventing side effects from treatment, is achievable for most people with epilepsy. However, most areas of the country do not have the organized systems of care necessary to provide needed service, and support for all people with epilepsy.

  • Epidemiological and surveillance data on epilepsy are limited. More research is needed on epilepsy, in particular on how the causes, frequency, and severity of the condition differ among age groups, races, and communities.

  • People with epilepsy often struggle to overcome low self-esteem and the stigma that is attached to having epilepsy. The stigma is due in part to a lack of understanding by people they see every day — family members, schoolmates, colleagues. Some people mistakenly believe that epilepsy is a form of mental illness or mental retardation, that seizures are something to fear, that drastic first aid measures must be taken to help someone having a seizure, or that people with epilepsy cannot be valuable and productive employees. Public education is needed to eliminate these misconceptions.

For links to other epilepsy organizations and educational resources, see Resources.

* Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by CDC or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred. The CDC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization Web pages found at this link.

One or more documents on this Web page is available in Portable Document Format (PDF). You will need Acrobat Reader to view and print these documents.

Date last modified: 03/25/2008
Date last reviewed: 10/11/2007
Content source: Division of Adult and Community Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Programs & Campaigns
New Publication:
MMWR August 8, 2008, Vol.57/No.SS-6 cover

Epilepsy MMWR
Surveillance Summary

In 2005, 19 states collected information about the number of adults living with epilepsy,
their characteristics, and other epilepsy-related factors.
 Quick Links
bullet Division of Adult and Community Health
bullet Epilepsy Foundation*
bullet Epilepsy Foundation eCommunities*
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