Epilepsy is a medical condition that produces seizures affecting a variety of mental and physical functions. It is also called a seizure disorder. When a person has two or more unprovoked seizures, they are considered to have epilepsy. Seizures happen when clusters of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally, which may briefly alter a person's consciousness, movements or actions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, epilepsy affects 2.2 million Americans. The Institute of Medicine, in their recent report "Epilepsy Across the Spectrum," says "the 2.2 million prevalence estimate is most accurately viewed as approximating a midpoint in a wide potential range of 1.3 million to 2.8 million people with epilepsy."
Epilepsy affects 65 million people worldwide.
While medications and other treatments help many people of all ages who live with epilepsy, more than a million people continue to have seizures that can severely limit their school achievements, employment prospects and participation in all of life's experiences. It strikes most often among the very young and the very old, although anyone can develop epilepsy at any age. In the U.S., it affects more than 300,000 children under the age of 15--more than 90,000 of whom have seizures that cannot be adequately treated.
The number of epilepsy cases in the elderly is climbing as the baby boom generation reaches retirement age. More than 570,000 adults age 65 and above have the condition. Our returning veterans are also affected as studies show an increased risk of developing epilepsy following traumatic brain injury.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder in the U.S. after migraine, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease. Its prevalence is greater than autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease combined. Despite how common it is and major advances in diagnosis and treatment, epilepsy is among the least understood of major chronic medical conditions, even though one in three adults knows someone with the disorder.