The number of young children with epilepsy has fallen by a third over the last decade. This is based on the findings of research that examined whether GP records showed a change in the number of children diagnosed or treated for epilepsy in the last ten years.

The study of children with Epilepsy

The research, which was published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, was a joint venture by a number of respected institutions including Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London. It used health-related information held on a database known as the Health Improvement Network, which is a typical sample taken from around 5% of the country’s population. Data from children born between 1994 and 2008 was used to investigate the change in incidence of epilepsy and how this differed with factors such as gender, age and deprivation.

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The results

The rate of epilepsy amongst children who were born between 1994 and 1996 was 1%; however, this fell to 0.53% for children born from 2003 to 2005, representing a reduction of 47%. This was based on those children showing symptoms of epilepsy, receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy or a prescription for anti-seizure medications. If only those children being actively treated for epilepsy were included, the reduction would be 33% over the same time. Epilepsy rates were found to be highest amongst children under one year of age, in boys and those children from more deprived backgrounds. Once these factors had been adjusted for, a 4% reduction in prescriptions for epilepsy medications was seen every year from 2001 onwards.

The conclusion

Over time the study shows a significant reduction in the number of children diagnosed and treated with epilepsy. The results may reflect the fact that fewer children are now misdiagnosed with epilepsy and that some forms of epilepsy are no longer treated using drugs. Some risk factors for childhood epilepsy have also reduced. For example, the meningitis C vaccine, which has been available since 1999, has reduced the number of children experiencing epilepsy as a result of an infection in the brain; a reduction in the number of cases of trauma injury to the brain – another risk factor – may also help to explain the results. However, it is unlikely that a single cause will explain the trend and a number of factors will have influenced the reduction in the incidence of epilepsy amongst children.