'Steep decline' in child epilepsy

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Image caption,
Childhood epilepsy in steep decline - GP data

The number of children being diagnosed with epilepsy has dropped dramatically in the UK over the past decade, figures show.

A study of GP-recorded diagnoses show the incidence has fallen by as much as half.

Researchers said fewer children were being misdiagnosed, but there had also been a real decrease in some causes of the condition.

Other European countries and the US had reported similar declines, they added.

Epilepsy is caused when the brain's normal electrical activity result in seizures.

Data from more than 344,000 children showed that the annual incidence of epilepsy has fallen by 4-9% year on year between 1994 and 2008.

Overall the number of children born between 2003-2005 with epilepsy was 33% lower then those born in 1994-96.

When researchers looked in more detail and included a wider range of possible indicators of an epilepsy diagnosis the incidence dropped by 47%.

Correct diagnosis

Better use of specialist services and increased caution over diagnosing the condition explains some, but not all, of the decline in the condition, the researchers reported in Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

Introduction of vaccines against meningitis and a drop in the number of children with traumatic brain injuries, both of which can cause epilepsy, has probably also contributed to falling cases, they added.

Study author Prof Ruth Gilbert, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Child Health at University College London, said: "The drop is consistent with what has been seen in other countries so it is reassuring that we are seeing the same pattern.

"We're getting better at diagnosing and deciding who should be treated and then there is also probably an effect of factors like fewer cases of meningitis."

She said in the past, there was an issue with variable diagnosis and some children being treated who did not need to be.

"There is a more rigorous approach and that is partly down to NICE guidance.

"It is very troubling to have a misdiagnosis because once you have a diagnosis it sticks and that does blight the life of a child."

Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive at Epilepsy Action, said: "It may indicate a reduction in misdiagnosis rates in children, which we know to be high. However, our discussions with leading clinicians suggest that this may not be the complete picture.

"They tell us that they are not seeing a reduction in the number of children with epilepsy presenting at their clinics and epilepsy remains one of the most prevalent neurological conditions in children in the UK."

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