Seizures More Common Among Disadvantaged Children

mother child
Researchers found a strong association between mothers who have migraines and their children.
Children and adolescents who experienced seizures were more likely to hail from financially disadvantaged families.

Seizures more often occur in children and adolescents who are socially or economically disadvantaged and have comorbid conditions, according to data published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Previously, no national estimates of seizure occurrence in U.S. children and adolescents existed, prompting the CDC to analyze data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) to assess seizure occurrence, comorbid conditions, and health service utilization.

Between 2010 and 2014, 0.7% of children and adolescents aged 6-17 years were reported to have had seizures in the past 12 months. Those who had seizures were more likely to live in poverty and low-income families or households (41.6%) compared to those who did not have seizures (28.6%). Those who had seizures were also less likely to have parents with a bachelor’s degree or higher (mother: 20.4% vs. 30.6%; father: 22.4% vs. 34%) or to live in nuclear families or households (30.3% vs. 41.9%). Parents of children or adolescents with seizures were more likely to be concerned that food would run out (34.5% vs. 22.9%) or that food would not last until money was obtained to buy more (30.9% vs. 19.2%).

Those who had seizures were more likely to have comorbid conditions, including learning disabilities (43.7% vs. 8.2%); developmental delay (32.3% vs. 4.3%); intellectual disability (22.9% vs. 1%); and ADD/ADHD (19.3% vs. 10.3%) compared to those who did not have seizures. Additionally, parents of children with seizures were more likely to report that their children had headaches or migraines (23.7% vs. 7%), hay fever (19% vs. 11.2%), stuttering or stammering (11.3% vs. 1.6%), as well as a health problem or impairment that limited their ability to crawl, walk, run, or play (23.7% vs. 1.9%), that required special medical equipment (21.4% vs. 1.1%), or that required prescription medication for ≥3 months (68.7% vs. 15.6%).

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Over 14% of parents of children and adolescents with seizures reported having delays in getting health care compared to just 8.8% of parents whose children did not have seizures. Those who had seizures were more likely to see different types of health care providers, however 34.4% had not seen a medical specialist during the past 12 months. During that same time period, 41% of those who had seizures visited an emergency department compared to 15.4% of those who did not have seizures. Those who had seizures also missed more school days due to illness or injury compared to those who did not have seizures (41.9% vs. 14.3%).

“The higher observed prevalence of co-occurring conditions is consistent with previous research that has shown a higher prevalence of neurodevelopmental conditions and behavior problems among some children with seizures,” the authors wrote. “Associations between seizures and these conditions might be bidirectional, sharing some common pathophysiological mechanisms.”

Ultimately, the findings indicate several unmet needs and gaps in care for children and adolescents who experience seizures. Most potentially require the care of a specialist, such as a neurologist, however health care costs and other factors, including limited transportation, may prevent this.

To combat this gap in care, the CDC recommends that public health agencies and health and human service agencies work together to raise awareness about seizures in children and adolescents by educating parents and school personnel about known causes and risk factors, and facilitating links to appropriate clinical and community providers.


  1. Cui W, Kobau R, Zack MM, Helmers S, Yeargin-Allsopp M. Seizures in Children and Adolescents Aged 6–17 Years — United States, 2010–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015; 64(43):1209-1214.