The descriptive epidemiology of epilepsy-a review

Epilepsy Res. 2009 Jul;85(1):31-45. doi: 10.1016/j.eplepsyres.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Apr 15.


Epilepsy is a chronic disease experienced by millions and a cause of substantial morbidity and mortality. This review summarizes prevalence and incidence studies of epilepsy that provided a clear definition of epilepsy and could be age-adjusted: requirements if comparisons across studies are to be made. Although few exceptions, age-adjusted prevalence estimates from record-based studies (2.7-17.6 per 1000), are lower than those from door-to-door surveys (2.2-41.0 per 1000). Age-adjusted incidence ranged from 16 to 51 per 100,000, with one exception in Chile, where incidence was 111 per 100,000. Variation in reported prevalence and incidence may be related to factors such as access to health care, regional environmental exposures, or socioeconomic status. A higher proportion of epilepsy characterized by generalized seizures was reported in most prevalence studies. Epilepsy characterized by partial seizures accounted for 20-66% of incident epilepsies. Virtually all prevalence and incidence studies report a preponderance of seizures of unknown cause. Additional prevalence studies are needed in regions where data does not exist, and additional incidence studies in all regions. Interpretation of differences in prevalence and incidence will require understanding of the role of cultural, social and economic factors influencing epilepsy and its care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Community Health Planning
  • Databases, Bibliographic / statistics & numerical data
  • Epilepsy / classification
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology*
  • Epilepsy / etiology
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors