Over the last decade the number of children developing epilepsy in the UK has fallen quite dramatically, with some figures reporting that there has been a 50% reduction in new cases. Between 1994 and 2008 the incidence of epilepsy has fallen by around 4-9% every year. This is obviously excellent news, but it begs the question, why?
In recent years there have been some major social health changes, mainly the banning of smoking in public places. Could this be related? If not, what else has led to the fall in new cases?
The UK is apparently not alone, with both the USA and other European countries reporting a fall. While there have been changes to smoking laws in other countries, it has not been universal. Let’s take a look at epilepsy.
What is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder whereby the neurons in the brain fail to function properly. There is a change to they electrical activity within the brain and this causes seizures. Epileptic episodes are sudden and often unexpected. As well as seizures they cause sensory disturbances and loss of consciousness.
Reduction in Meningitis
Prof Ruth Gilbert from the Centre for Evidence-based Child Health at University College London pointed out that one possible reason for a reduction in new cases of epilepsy was due to a reduction in meningitis.
“Unprovoked seizures and epilepsy (recurrent unprovoked seizures) can be long-term sequelae of bacterial meningitis.” Murthy, 2008.
Another reason for the drop could be down to improvements in diagnosis, and the fact that there are fewer misdiagnoses now.
Simon Wigglesworth from Epilepsy Action said that while the drop may be due to a reduction in misdiagnosis rates in children, discussions with leading researchers and clinicians is suggesting that it may not be as simple as this.
Whether it is fewer misdiagnoses or a reduction in meningitis, it is excellent news.
Research and References
Childhood epilepsy recorded in primary care in the UK. Wilhelmine Hadler Meeraus, Irene Petersen, Richard Frank Chin, Felicity Knott, Ruth Gilbert. Archives of Disease in Childhood. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2012-302237
Bacterial meningitis and epilepsy. Murthy JM, Prabhakar S. Epilepsia. 2008 Aug;49 Suppl 6:8-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01750.x.