• Epidemiology;
  • Incidence;
  • Seizures;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Africa

Summary: Purpose: To study the incidence of epilepsy in a rural area of Ethiopia.

Methods: A community-based study was performed in a random sample of villages with 61,686 inhabitants in a rural area of central Ethiopia. In a door-to-door survey, all inhabitants in the study area were interviewed about seizures. A standardized protocol was used. All new cases with epilepsy that had occurred since a previous study was made 3.5 years earlier were included. Fifty-three of the subjects were investigated with EEG.

Results: One-hundred thirty-nine incident cases were identified, corresponding to an annual incidence of 64 in 100,000 inhabitants [95% confidence interval (CI) 44–84]. The corresponding rate for males was 72 (CI 42–102); for females, it was 57 (CI 31–84). The highest age-specific incidence occurred in the youngest age groups (0–9 years); the next highest was in the group aged 10–19 years. Generalized convulsive seizures occurred in 69%, partial seizures occurred in 20%, and unclassifiable seizures occurred in 11%. Seizures occurred daily in 10% and weekly in another 14%; 33% had monthly seizures. Twenty-two percent had a family history of epilepsy. A history of head trauma was ascertained in 5.7% and was the most common possible etiologic factor identified. Thirteen percent were treated with antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).

Conclusions: The incidence of epilepsy in Ethiopia is high. A high incidence in combination with a prevalence of epilepsy in the study area comparable to that in the rest of the world may be explained by a high degree of spontaneous remission of epilepsy and/or a high mortality due to epilepsy. Despite health education on epilepsy given to the community, a minority of subjects were treated with AEDs, which may reflect the inadequacies of the health services and transportation difficulties faced by the patients.