What are the Causes of Epilepsy?
In about half of all cases of epilepsy, the cause is unknown. Epilepsy is the result of disturbed electrical impulses in the brain, so it may be a symptom of something gone wrong more than it is its own disease in some cases. In other cases, doctors can discern the causes of seizures. They include:
Head Injury and Brain Damage
Trauma to the head caused by accidents, sports injuries or blows have been known to lead to seizures. Babies who suffer injury to their brains before birth are also at risk for epilepsy. The injury can come about because the mother did not receive proper nutrition or suffered an infection. A person who was temporarily starved of oxygen in the womb is at higher risk for epilepsy.
- Tumors and Stroke
Strokes and brain tumors can cause epilepsy. Stroke is one of the main causes of epilepsy in people over 35.
- Infections in the Brain
Brain infections such as meningitis can lead to epilepsy. Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that cover and protect the brain and the spinal cord.
- History of Childhood Seizures
A person who suffered seizures in childhood due to fevers is more at risk for epilepsy.
- Family History
People who have close relatives with seizure disorders are more likely to develop epilepsy. Still, scientists believe that there are hundreds of genetic mutations that can lead to epilepsy. Environmental factors combined with genetic disposition are probably causes of some cases of epilepsy.
There are some conditions that put a person at higher risk for seizures, though they don’t directly cause them. They include:
- Young or Old Age
Though epilepsy can happen to anyone at any age, it’s more likely to strike very young children or older adults.
Dementia and epilepsy are sometimes comorbidities with older adults.
Some people who have epilepsy have seizures because they don’t get enough sleep, are under stress, are having a menstrual period or are not taking their anticonvulsant medications. Some people have seizures if they’re exposed to flashing or strobe lights.
Epileptic seizures range from absence seizures that are barely noticeable to grand mal, or tonic clonic seizures where the person falls, loses consciousness, has jerking movements and becomes incontinent. People who have seizures where they lose control of their body for a period of time are at risk for accidents if the seizure occurs while they’re driving or operating heavy machinery. A complication of untreated epilepsy is a condition called status epilepticus, where the person has a seizure that does not stop. Rarely, a person with epilepsy dies suddenly and unexpectedly.
Though the health profession doesn’t yet have a way to prevent epilepsy, medications can be taken for seizure prevention. Some patients benefit from vagus nerve stimulation. The doctor implants a device in the patient’s neck that stimulates the vagus nerve, a long cranial nerve that starts in the brain and passes down into the abdomen and sends and receives signals to and from the brain.
Some patients with severe and unremitting epileptic seizures are treated surgically. The doctor may remove part of the brain or interrupt neural pathways that are causing the seizures.