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Published: 07 February 2013

GPs report decline in childhood epilepsy

There has been a steep decline in childhood epilepsy according to GPs, reports BBC news. 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 Society’s medical director, Professor Ley Sander, believes the downwards trend is most likely due to better pre-natal and peri-natal care and delivery, and that expectant mothers are leading a more healthy life style during pregnancy.

Incidence of epilepsy

In the latest study, 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 per cent lower than 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 per cent.

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.

Meningitis link

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.’