There has been a dramatic fall in the number of children diagnosed with epilepsy in the UK, research published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood has found.

A cohort study based on data from The Health Improvement Network, a database that holds a representative sample of around 5% of the UK population, looked for any trends in the incidence of epilepsy recorded in the country in children aged 0 and 14 years born between 1994 and 2008.

It found that the number with epilepsy by the age of five dropped substantially over time, with 1% of those born between 1994 and 1996 having had a repeat prescription for antiepileptic drugs, a clinical diagnosis of the condition, or symptoms of epilepsy, compared to just to 0.53% for children born between 2003 and 2005, marking a fall of 47%. 

Taking only children into account who were given repeat prescriptions for antiepileptic medicine, the decrease was 33% over the same period, the findings show. 

In addition, the annual rate of epilepsy dropped 4% a year between 2001 and 2008, taking age, gender and deprivation into the equation.

According to the researchers, “the decline since the mid-1990s in epilepsy recorded in primary care may be due to more specific diagnosis, cessation of treatment for some forms of epilepsy, reduced exposure to risk factors or all of these factors”.

While the exact reasons for the fall in cases has not been identified, it is likely that a combination of environmental factors, more accurate diagnostic procedures and changes in prescribing habits have fuelled the decline, experts believe.