What Causes Epilepsy?
Seizure eTraining Slide 5

What causes epilepsy?

Disruptions to the normal connections between nerve cells in the brain (much like disruptions in wiring of a complex electrical circuit), when there are imbalances of natural chemicals or neurotransmitters that are important to the signaling among nerve cells, or when there are changes in the membranes of nerve cells. Some of these may develop early in life while others may be acquired later.

Known conditions and events that may lead to epilepsy:

  • Oxygen deprivation (e.g., during childbirth).
  • Brain infections (e.g., meningitis, encephalitis, cysticercosis, or brain abscess).
  • Traumatic brain injury or head injury.
  • Stroke (resulting from a block or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain).
  • Other neurologic diseases (e.g., Alzheimer disease).
  • Brain tumors.
  • Certain genetic disorders (Down syndrome; Angelman’s syndrome; tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis)

In nearly two-thirds of the cases of epilepsy, a specific underlying cause is not identified. In these instances, the cause may be labeled cryptogenic if the cause is unknown, or idiopathic if the epilepsy is not associated with other neurologic disease but is consistent with certain syndromes that may be inherited.


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