Background: The long-term prognosis of seizures that begin in childhood is uncertain.
Methods: We prospectively studied 245 children from the catchment area of Turku University Hospital in Turku, Finland, who had active epilepsy diagnosed between 1961 and 1964. Sixty-eight patients (28 percent) had idiopathic seizures (presumed to have a genetic origin), 54 (22 percent) had cryptogenic seizures (occurring in otherwise normal persons with no clear cause), and 123 (50 percent) had remote symptomatic seizures (with no immediate cause but occurring in persons with a prior brain injury or a static encephalopathy).
Results: At the final follow-up in 1992, we had sufficient data on 220 patients (90 percent), 176 of whom were alive and 44 of whom had died; the remaining 25 had emigrated, could not be traced, or declined to participate. Thirty-nine patients who died were not free of seizures at the time of death, and 33 had remote symptomatic seizures. Among the surviving patients, 112 (64 percent) had been seizure-free for at least five years, including 83 (47 percent) who were not taking antiepileptic medications. The most important predictors of being seizure-free for at least five years were a rapid response to therapy (defined as a reduction in the frequency of seizures of 75 to 100 percent within three months of beginning treatment) and a diagnosis of idiopathic seizures. As compared with a matched control group, 99 patients with epilepsy but no other initial neurologic impairment were of similar socioeconomic status and had similar rates of passing an examination given after 12 years of school. Significantly more patients, however, had completed only six years of school (relative risk, 2.13), were unemployed (relative risk, 3.76), were not married (relative risk, 3.50), and did not have children (relative risk, 3.00).
Conclusions: Although the majority of patients with epilepsy in childhood are free of seizures by the time they become adults, they are at increased risk for social and educational problems. Patients whose epilepsy does not remit also have an increased risk of death.