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Keywords:

  • Prevalence;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Epidemiology;
  • Comorbidity;
  • Canada;
  • Somatic conditions

Summary: Purpose: There is a notion that people with epilepsy have substantial and often unrecognized comorbidity of chronic conditions. However, most studies focus on selected patient groups; population-based studies are scarce. We compared the prevalence of chronic somatic conditions in people with epilepsy with that in the general population using Canadian, nationwide, population-based health data.

Method: We examined epilepsy-specific and general population health data obtained through two previously validated, independently performed, door-to-door Canadian health surveys, the National Population Health Survey (NPHS, N = 49,000) and the Community Health Survey (CHS, N = 130882), which represent 98% of the Canadian population. The prevalence of epilepsy and 19 other chronic conditions was ascertained through direct inquiry from respondents about physician-diagnosed illnesses. Weighted prevalence, prevalence ratios (PR), and 95% confidence intervals were obtained for the entire population and for males and females separately. Multivariate analyses assessed the strength of association of comorbid conditions with epilepsy as compared with the general population.

Results: People with epilepsy had a statistically significant higher prevalence of most chronic conditions than the general population. Conditions with particularly high prevalence in epilepsy (prevalence ratio ≥ 2.0) include stomach/intestinal ulcers (PR, CHS 2.5, NPHS 2.7), stroke (PR, CHS 3.9, NPHS 4.7), urinary incontinence (PR, CHS 3.2, NPHS 4.4), bowel disorders (PR, CHS 2.0, NPHS 3.3), migraine (PR, CHS 2.0, NPHS 2.6), Alzheimer's disease (PR, NPHS 4.3), and chronic fatigue (PR, CHS 4.1). There were no gender-specific differences in prevalence of chronic conditions among people with epilepsy.

Conclusions: People with epilepsy in the general population, not only those actively seeking medical care, have a high prevalence of chronic somatic comorbid conditions. The findings are consistent across two independent surveys, which show that people with epilepsy in the general population have a two- to five-fold risk of somatic comorbid conditions, as compared with people without epilepsy. This patient-centered comorbidity profile reflects health aspects that are important to people with epilepsy, and indicate the need for a more integrated approach to people with epilepsy. The impact of epilepsy relative to other comorbid conditions requires further analysis, as does the contribution of comorbidity to epilepsy intractability and to differential health care needs. Similarly, it remains to be determined whether the observed comorbidity patterns are specific to epilepsy or simply reflect a pattern that is common to chronic illnesses in general.