Epilepsy facts: Epilepsy by the numbers

Epilepsy has been shrouded in stigma for thousands of years. However, recent media coverage in the New York Times and Newsweek has helped bring to light the staggering number of people affected by the disorder. You might be surprised to learn just how many friends, neighbors and colleagues are living with epilepsy.

Woman getting EEG

50 Million worldwide

Epilepsy and seizures affect three million Americans of all ages. That is more than the entire population of a city the size of Philadelphia, and double the number of people known to be affected by autism. To take an even broader look, epilepsy affects 50 million people worldwide. That’s more people than were living with HIV/AIDS in 2008, according to UNAIDS.

Every two minutes

Every two minutes a new case of epilepsy is diagnosed. Other two-minute facts that you may be familiar with include: how often a woman is sexually assaulted or a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer.

Third Most Common

Epilepsy is the third most common neurological disorder in the US, after Alzheimer’s and stroke, according to the Epilepsy Foundation of America. Is it really any surprise that you probably know someone with epilepsy, considering these numbers?

On par with breast cancer

The Epilepsy Foundation shows there are approximately 200,000 new cases of epilepsy and seizures diagnosed each year. According to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the same number of breast cancer cases are diagnosed. Additionally, 40,000 people will die as a result of seizures, which is the same number of people that will die as a result of breast cancer.

Seventy percent conjecture

There are more than 40 different types of seizures and not all of them involve convulsions. And in 70 percent of the cases diagnosed, no known cause is found. Yep, you read that right: 70 percent.

Startling mortality rate

The mortality rate is two to three times higher among people with epilepsy and the risk of sudden death (brace yourself) is 24 times greater. Yet according to the American Epilepsy Society, “it is very uncommon but not unheard of for people to die with a seizure.”

Myths and stigma live on

Sadly, myths about epilepsy have not been completely dispelled, but it is time for a change, especially considering the huge number of people affected. Epilepsy is not contagious and you cannot swallow your tongue during a seizure. So just a friendly reminder: Next time you come upon someone having a seizure please don’t stick your dirty old wallet in the person’s mouth to keep them from swallowing their tongue. Ick.

*These statistics are available from the Epilepsy Foundation of America and UNAID, WHO and NINDS.

Living with epilepsy

Living with epilepsy since 1961: Alan has lived with epilepsy for nearly his whole life, but refuses to let it define him. He built a successful career as an educator and eventually found seizure control by working with his doctor. As a Patient Ambassador, Alan is determined to share his experiences and hopes to make a difference in the lives of others touched by epilepsy.

More on epilepsy

Living with epilepsy
Fighting back against epilepsy
Epilepsy drugs may cause sexual disorders
Breakthrough treatment for kids with epilepsy


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