Problem/condition: Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterized by brief, recurrent disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain that result in seizures. Few population-based studies of epilepsy have been published for the United States, and the prevalence is expected to increase with the aging of the population. This is the first multistate study examining the prevalence of self-reported epilepsy and active epilepsy and includes an examination of socioedemographic and behavioral characteristics and of health-related quality of life among adults with epilepsy.
Reporting period covered: Data from the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) are presented for 19 states.
Description of system: BRFSS is an ongoing, state-based, random-digit--dialed telephone survey of the noninstitutionalized U.S. population aged >/=18 years. BRFSS collects information on health risk behaviors and preventive health services related to leading causes of death and morbidity. In 2005, 19 states included questions on epilepsy or seizure disorder.
Results/interpretation: During 2005, 1.65% of noninstitutionalized adults from 19 states reported that they had ever been told by a doctor that they had epilepsy or seizure disorder (i.e., a history of epilepsy); 0.84% reported having active epilepsy (i.e., a history of epilepsy and currently taking medication or reporting one or more seizures during the past 3 months), and 0.75% were classified as having inactive epilepsy (i.e., a history of epilepsy or seizure disorder but currently not taking medicine to control epilepsy and no seizures in the 3 months preceding the survey). No substantial differences among states in the prevalence of lifetime epilepsy, active epilepsy, or inactive epilepsy were detected. Prevalence estimates for active and inactive epilepsy revealed no significant differences by sex or race/ethnicity. Adults with a history of epilepsy and with active epilepsy were more likely to report fair or poor health, be unemployed or unable to work, live in households with the lowest annual incomes, and have a history of co-occurring disorders (e.g., stroke or arthritis). Adults with a history of epilepsy and with active epilepsy also reported significantly worse health-related quality of life. Adults with a history of epilepsy were more likely to be obese, physically inactive, and current smokers. Among adults with active epilepsy with recent seizures, 16.1% reported not currently taking their epilepsy medication, and 65.1% reported having had more than one seizure in the past month. Among adults with a history of epilepsy, 23.7% reported cost as a barrier to seeking care from a doctor within the past year. A total of 34.9% of adults with active epilepsy with seizures reported not having seen a neurologist or an epilepsy specialist (i.e., a neurologist who specializes in treating epilepsy) in the previous year.
Public health action: Additional descriptive and analytic studies of epilepsy occurrence in diverse U.S. communities and populations are needed to better characterize epilepsy incidence rates, risk factors and etiologies, and types and severity, as well as epilepsy-associated conditions and disabilities. Community-based strategies that link health- care providers with social services such as public transportation, mental health services, and employment services might improve quality of life in persons with epilepsy. Implementing educational programs developed by CDC and the Epilepsy Foundation for schools, emergency responders, employers, providers, and the general public can increase awareness about epilepsy and reduce stigma associated with this disorder.