Age-specific Incidence and Prevalence Rates of Treated Epilepsy in an Unselected Population of 2,052,922 and Age-Specific Fertility Rates of Women With Epilepsy

Lancet. 1998 Dec 19-26;352(9145):1970-3. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(98)04512-7.


Background: There are no data on prevalence or incidence of treated epilepsy, and no data on fertility of women with epilepsy from an unselected UK population.

Methods: We used the General Practice Research Database to ascertain the incidence and prevalence of people with treated epilepsy in an unselected population of 2,052,922 people in England and Wales, and also age-specific fertility rates. We defined period prevalence of treated epilepsy as the number of people with epilepsy taking an antiepileptic drug per 100,000 people during 1995. The incidence of treated epilepsy was defined as the number of new cases of treated epilepsy per 100,000 people during the same period. We calculated fertility rates among women with treated epilepsy between 1991 and 1995 and compared these rates with the population rates for England and Wales in 1993.

Findings: The period prevalence of treated epilepsy in 1995 was 5.15 per 1000 people (95% CI 5.05-5.25). The prevalence was lower in children (age 5-9 years 3.16 [2.86-3.48]; 10-14 years 4.05 [3.70-4.42]), and higher in older people (65-69 years 6.01 [5.50-6.57]; 70-74 years 6.53 [5.97-7.14]; 75-79 years 7.39 [6.73-8.11]); 80-84 years 7.54 [6.78-8.39]; 85 years and older 7.73 [6.98-8.66]). The incidence of treated epilepsy was 80.8 per 100,000 people (76.9-84.7). The incidence was lower in children (5-9 years 63.2 [50.5-79.1]; 10-14 years 53.8 [42.4-68.3]) and higher in older people (65-69 years 85.9 [68.5-107.3]; 70-74 years 82.8 [65.0-105.2]; 75-79 years 114.5 [116.9-179.2]; 80-84 years 159 [125.2-202.6]; > or = 85 years 135.4 [100.4-178.7]). Fertility was lower among women with treated epilepsy, with an overall rate of 47.1 livebirths per 1000 women aged 15-44 per year (42.3-52.2), compared with a national rate of 62.6 in the same age-group. The standardised fertility ratios were significantly lower between the ages of 25 and 39 years in women with epilepsy (p<0.001).

Interpretation: Compared with previous studies, we found that the incidence of epilepsy was higher in elderly people and lower in children. The prevalence rates also increase with age. Women aged 25-39 years with treated epilepsy have significantly lower fertility rates than those in the general population. Research is needed to identify any potentially preventable causes for the low fertility rates.

PIP: This article reports on the incidence and prevalence rates of treated epilepsy in an unselected population of 2,052,922 people and on the fertility rates of women with epilepsy in Great Britain. The prevalence of people with treated epilepsy was determined using the general practice research database. Samples included a large population of women who had a contemporary diagnosis of epilepsy and on who were undergoing antiepileptic drug treatment. Findings indicated that fertility rates among women in the general population were 33% higher than among women with epilepsy. This difference was highly significant overall in women aged 25-39 years. The reduction in fertility among women with epilepsy may have been caused by social and biological factors. These findings suggest that there is an urgent need for research in this area and for research directed in particular toward identifying causes of low fertility rates in women with epilepsy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Databases, Factual
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Epilepsy / complications
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infertility, Female / epidemiology
  • Infertility, Female / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Prevalence
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Anticonvulsants