Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder in which seizures are caused by a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain. An epilepsy diagnosis does not refer to a singular condition, but rather represents a diverse range of disorders involving many seizure types (Epilepsy Australia 2021). It is one of the most common and disabling neurological conditions. The prevalence of epilepsy is predicted to increase over the coming years as people more frequently survive traumatic causes of the condition, such as stroke and injury (WHO 2019).
This web report provides an overview of epilepsy in Australia, including disease prevalence, burden, treatment access, hospitalisations and deaths as well as sociodemographic breakdowns.
In 2017–18, epilepsy was estimated to affect 0.6% of Australians, or 151,000 people, equally affecting both males and females (ABS 2018). In the same year, it was estimated that 1.2% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had epilepsy, or 9,000 people. Indigenous Australians were twice as likely to have epilepsy as non-Indigenous Australians (1.2% and 0.6% respectively), with Indigenous males and females similarly likely to self-report epilepsy (1.3% and 1.0% respectively).
Burden of disease analysis measures fatal and non-fatal impacts of epilepsy. In 2018, epilepsy was ranked the 30th cause for disease burden in Australia. The burden of disease for epilepsy was highest among 15–19 year olds for disability-adjusted life years (DALY) (3,565 DALY), 5–9 year olds for years lived with disability (YLD) (3,042 YLD) and 35–39 year olds for years of life lost (YLL) (926 YLL).
Around $134 billion of recurrent health system expenditure in 2018–19 could be attributed to specific disease groups. Epilepsy expenditure accounted for around $333 million of this expenditure, or 0.2%.
In 2019–20, around 388,000 people were dispensed (at least one) antiepileptic medication, with an average of 8 prescriptions dispensed per person.
For a sub-set of people whose seizures cannot be controlled by medication, surgical options may be investigated. In 2018–19, there were 317 epilepsy-related procedures provided in hospital to patients with a principal and/or additional diagnosis of epilepsy.
There were 31,400 hospitalisations associated with epilepsy in 2018–19. Epilepsy was recorded as the principal diagnosis for 66% of these hospitalisations, while the remainder (34%) had epilepsy recorded as an additional diagnosis.
Hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of epilepsy were most common among the youngest age group (132 hospitalisations per 100,000 people for males and 125 for females aged 0–4 years), while hospitalisations with a principal and/or an additional diagnosis of epilepsy were most common in the oldest age group (221 and 175 hospitalisations per 100,000 population for males and females aged 85 and over, respectively).
Rates of hospitalisations related to epilepsy were highest in Remote and Very remote areas when compared with other geographic areas (150 and 160 hospitalisations per 100,000 people respectively) and increased with increasing socioeconomic disadvantage.
Hospitalisations among Indigenous Australians were 3.5 times as high as the rate among non-Indigenous Australians (390 and 113 hospitalisations per 100,000 people, respectively).
These hospitalisations data are based on admitted patient episodes of care, and may include multiple hospitalisation events experienced by the same individual.
There were over 20,600 emergency department presentations associated with epilepsy in 2018–19, with males more likely to present to the emergency department than females (92.4 and 72.4 presentations per 100,000 population, respectively).
In 2019, epilepsy contributed to about 1,100 deaths, or 0.7% of all deaths that occurred in that year. It was more likely to be an associated cause of death (78% of all epilepsy deaths) than the underlying cause of death, meaning that it was not the main cause of death.
‘All cause’ death rates for epilepsy (those where epilepsy is the underlying or the associated cause of death) have declined over the last few decades, from 4.6 deaths per 100,000 in 1997 to 3.7 per 100,000 in 2019. Over this time, males have continually had higher death rates (around 1.5 times as high) than females.
In 2019, all cause death rates due to epilepsy increased with increasing age, remoteness and disadvantage, and were over three times as high among Indigenous Australians as non-Indigenous Australians (12.1 and 3.5 deaths per 100,000, respectively). The gap in death rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was similar for females and males.