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Risks and Causes

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or a person living with seizures for some time, knowledge is crucial for successful epilepsy treatment. By knowing the facts, talking to your neurologist or epileptologist, and connecting with others with epilepsy, you can work toward seizure control and to live your life on your own terms.

Epilepsy Risks and Causes

Can epilepsy be prevented?

Yes and no. Head injuries that result from sports or other accidents can cause epilepsy, but they are often preventable. Help avoid sports-related injuries to the head by wearing helmets. Seat belt use can help prevent head injuries associated with motor vehicle accidents. However, epilepsy can also occur without injury, or it can be hereditary. In short, researchers are still exploring the reasons why some people have epilepsy.

Can epilepsy be inherited?

Certain types of epilepsy are more likely to be inherited than others. Primary generalized epilepsy, in which the seizures begin from both sides of the brain at the same time, are more likely to involve genetic factors than partial epilepsy, in which the seizures arise from a limited area of the brain.

If one or both parents have epilepsy, there is an approximately 5% risk that it will be passed on.

Seizure Risks and Causes

What are common causes of seizures?

Examples of risk factors in people who do not have epilepsy are:

  • Disturbed levels of body water/electrolytes (mostly sodium, calcium, or magnesium)
  • Disturbed levels of blood glucose (sugar)
    • Can result in seizures in some people who have severe hypoglycemia
  • Reduced oxygen to the brain
    • Seizures can result from a heart attack, head injury, or stroke
  • Raised body temperature
  • Altered sleep patterns
    • Seizures can occur at particular times during the sleep cycle in those with epilepsy
  • Disturbed hormones
    • Seizures can be a symptom of thyroid problems. Correcting a thyroid imbalance can stop the seizures
  • Toxicity
    • Seizures can occur as part of a toxic reaction

Examples of risk factors in those who have epilepsy are:

  • Disturbed levels of blood glucose (sugar)
    • Can cause seizures in some people who have epilepsy and diabetes
  • Altered sleep patterns
    • Seizures can occur at particular times during the sleep cycle

What causes seizures in different age groups?

  • Seizures that occur early in life usually result from problems at birth and/or inherited disorders.
  • Many seizures in children are related to infection, which reflects the higher rate of convulsions in younger children with high fevers.
  • Brain tumors are a significant cause of seizures in adults and older people. Cerebrovascular events—such as stroke—are a common cause of new seizures.
Causes of Seizures Annegers JF. The epidemiology of epilepsy. In: Wyllie E, ed. The treatment of epilepsy: principles and practice.
3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001:165-72.

Are there things I can do to reduce the risk of seizures?

If you have seizures, you can help reduce the risk of a seizure by:

  • Taking prescribed medication regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Avoiding unusual stress
  • Seeing your neurologist or epileptologist regularly

Remember, treatment of epilepsy is different for each person, so it’s best to become as educated as possible and to consult with your physician. The good news is you are not alone. At, there are many others like you and plenty of encouragement and epilepsy information available to help you achieve your goal of seizure freedom.

Find out more about getting an accurate diagnosis from your neurologist.