Epilepsy Strikes 1 in 26 People During Their Lives

About 12 million Americans alive today will develop epilepsy at some point in their lives. People are more prone to develop the seizure disorder as they age, with a big jump in risk after age 50.

For a condition as common as epilepsy, you might be surprised to learn that estimates about a person's risk for it haven't been that great.

Now Columbia University researchers and colleges have mined two decades' worth of data from Rochester, Minnesota, home base to the Mayo Clinic, to come up with better estimates. They concluded that 1 in 26 people, or about 3.85 percent, will develop epilepsy during their lives.

Men are more likely to get the seizure disorder than women. Previous work has shown the condition is fairly common in infants (hitting about 100 per 100,000) then trails off as kids grow up. For adults, the risk really starts to climb after age 50.

The findings were just published online by the journal Neurology. Bottom line: about 12 million Americans alive today will develop epilepsy at some point. That's the sort of information that could help health planners get a bead on the future.

An accompanying editorial praises the findings while also criticizing the work some for reliance on diagnoses made more than 30 years ago. The data were collected between 1960 to 1979. Neurology has changed some since then, and people are also living quite a bit longer.

As the researchers note, though, the fact that lifespans have increased pretty dramatically since 1970 means the likelihood a person would develop epilepsy would be even higher than 1 in 26. And nothing about the age of the data would undermine the fundamental conclusions, which come from methods used for other neurological disorders, they write.

"Our results highlight the need for more research using epilepsy surveillance data, especially given the aging population in the United States, " said lead study author and epidemiologist Dale C. Hesdorffer in a statement.

The National Institute for Neurologic Disorders and Stroke and the National Institutes of Health funded the work. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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