Studies based on the Rochester Epidemiology Project medical records-linkage system have provided important insights into the epidemiology of epilepsy. The incidence of all convulsive disorders in Rochester, Minnesota, during a 50-year period exceeded 130 per 100,000 person-years. The age-adjusted incidence of epilepsy was 44 per 100,000 person-years; of a first unprovoked seizure, 61; and of acute symptomatic seizures excluding febrile convulsions, 31. In addition, 2% of the population experienced a febrile convulsion before the age of 5 years. The cumulative incidence of epilepsy through age 74 years was 3.0%, of all unprovoked seizures was 4.1%, and of any convulsive disorder approached 10%. For epilepsy, single unprovoked seizures, and acute symptomatic seizures, the incidence was significantly higher in males than in females, and it was high in the first year of life but highest in those age 75 years or older. For epilepsy alone, approximately 60% of incidence cases experienced partial seizures, and two-thirds had no clearly identified antecedent. Cerebrovascular disease was the most commonly identified antecedent of epilepsy, accounting for 11% of cases. Over time, the incidence of epilepsy and of unprovoked seizures decreased in children and increased in the elderly population. The age-adjusted prevalence of active epilepsy on Jan. 1, 1980, was 6.8 per 1,000 residents. Prevalence was low in the first decade of life, increased to a plateau in the adult years, and further increased in the elderly population. Almost 1.5% of the population older than 75 years of age had active epilepsy. About 25% of prevalence cases had an identified cause; 60% experienced partial epilepsy.