Atlanta—More than 90% of the 3 million American adults with active epilepsy were taking antiepileptic medication, but less than half of those under treatment were seizure-free in the past year. 

That’s according to an article in the Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report, which notes that seizures were more common among patients with lower household income, the unemployed, and the divorced, separated, or widowed.

To obtain recent and reliable estimates of active epilepsy and seizure-control status in the United States, researchers from the CDC analyzed aggregated data from the 2013 and the 2015 National Health Interview Surveys.

The study found that an estimated 2.6 million U.S. adults self-reported having active epilepsy, representing about 1.1% of the population. Most, 67%, said they had seen a neurologist or an epilepsy specialist in the past year. While most, 90% reported taking epilepsy medication, only 44% reported having their seizures fully controlled.

CDC researchers note that age-adjusted prevalence of taking epilepsy medication was higher among those who saw an epilepsy specialist in the past year (95.4%) than among those who did not (78.1%), although type of healthcare provider appeared to have little effect on active seizure frequency.

“Healthcare and public health should ensure that adults with uncontrolled seizures have appropriate care and self-management support in order to promote seizure control, improve health and social outcomes, and reduce health care costs,” the researchers recommend.

The report also describes the risks of active epilepsy, especially when seizures are uncontrolled. Those include:
• Somatic, neurologic, and mental health comorbidity 
• Cognitive and physical dysfunction 
• Side effects of antiseizure medications 
• Higher injury and mortality rates 
• Poorer quality of life
• Increased financial cost

“Thus, prompt diagnosis and seizure control (i.e., seizure-free in the 12 months preceding the survey) confers numerous clinical and social advantages to persons with active epilepsy,” study authors emphasize.

One of the most significant findings was that the number of adults reporting that they have active epilepsy substantially increased from 2010 (2.3 million) to 2015 (3 million), with about 724,000 more cases identified from 2013 to 2015. 

“Socioeconomic disadvantage among adults with active epilepsy might preclude their accessing health care including specialty care (because of barriers such as cost and transportation) thus affecting seizure control. More importantly, socioeconomic disadvantage (e.g., less education) and social isolation (e.g., lack of social support associated with being divorced, separated, or widowed) might lead to nonadherence to epilepsy medication, an important clinical factor that significantly hinders seizure control,” study authors conclude.