Incidence and Prevalence of Childhood Epilepsy: A Nationwide Cohort Study

Pediatrics. 2017 May;139(5):e20163908. doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-3908. Epub 2017 Apr 5.


Background and objectives: Epilepsy affects 0.5% to 1% of children and is the most frequent chronic neurologic condition in childhood. Incidence rates appear to be declining in high-income countries. The validity of epilepsy diagnoses from different data sources varies, and contemporary population-based incidence studies are needed.

Methods: The study was based on the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Potential epilepsy cases were identified through registry linkages and parental questionnaires. Cases were validated through medical record reviews and telephone interviews of parents.

Results: The study population included 112 744 children aged 3 to 13 years (mean 7.4 years) at end of registry follow-up (December 31, 2012). Of these, 896 had registry recordings and/or questionnaire reports of epilepsy. After validation, 587 (66%) met the criteria for an epilepsy diagnosis. The incidence rate of epilepsy was 144 per 100 000 person-years in the first year of life and 58 per 100 000 for ages 1 to 10 years. The cumulative incidence of epilepsy was 0.66% at age 10 years, with 0.62% having active epilepsy. The 309 children (34%) with erroneous reports of epilepsy from the registry and/or the questionnaires had mostly been evaluated for nonepileptic paroxysmal events, or they had undergone electroencephalography examinations because of other developmental or neurocognitive difficulties.

Conclusions: Approximately 1 out of 150 children is diagnosed with epilepsy during the first 10 years of life, with the highest incidence rate observed during infancy. Validation of epilepsy diagnoses in administrative data and cohort studies is crucial because reported diagnoses may not meet diagnostic criteria for epilepsy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Parents
  • Prevalence
  • Registries
  • Surveys and Questionnaires