• epilepsy;
  • epidemiology;
  • prevalence;
  • incidence;
  • etiology

To describe the epidemiological characteristics of epilepsy in a northern area of Chile, an investigation was conducted in four localities in the province of Copiapó (population of 17 694). Based on 314 cases of active epilepsy, the prevalence per 1000 at June 30, 1988 was 17.7. The average annual incidence for the period 1984–1988 was 113 per 100000. Partial seizures were the most frequent type of seizure diagnosed (54.1%). Antecedents considered as possible etiological factors were found in 29.9% of cases. According to age of onset, 64.6% had their first attack before 15 years. Middle and low socioeconomic classes had higher prevalence rates of epilepsy. We compare our results with previous Latin-American studies.