Causes of Epilepsy

Epilepsy has many different causes. About half of people with epilepsy have an unknown cause. 

Causes of epilepsy are different for each person, and some people have no identifiable cause. In others, doctors can trace epilepsy directly to genetics, brain trauma, autoimmune disorders, metabolic issues, or infectious diseases. Each cause has different signs, diagnoses, and treatment options.

Infections

Infection is probably the most common cause of epilepsy worldwide. If there is proof of a brain infection that leads to seizures, this is considered an infectious cause of epilepsy.

Learn about brain infections diagnosis and treatment

Autoimmune Epilepsy

Your immune system protects your body from foreign substances and other things that could hurt it. Autoimmune epilepsy (AE) is caused by a change in your body’s immune function.

Learn about autoimmune epilepsy diagnosis and treatment

Genetic Causes

Some types of epilepsy run in families, passed down from one generation to the next. Other types of epilepsy may be from genetic changes that you inherited and are happening for the first time.

Learn more about the different genetic causes of epilepsy

Metabolic Causes

Your body contains enzymes that are responsible for processing the food you eat. If there is a problem in one of these enzymes, this can lead to issues breaking down food or making the energy your body needs to function.

Learn about metabolic epilepsy diagnosis and treatment

Structural Causes

There are certain abnormal structures in the brain that can increase the risk of seizures. This might be something you are born with or develop later in life. Most structural causes can be seen on imaging of the brain with an MRI.

Learn about structural epilepsy diagnosis and treatment

Common Causes of Epilepsy by Age

    Newborns
    • Brain malformations (changes in the structure of the brain)
    • Lack of oxygen during birth
    • Low levels of blood sugar, blood calcium, blood magnesium or other problems with electrolytes
    • Problems with metabolism that a baby is born with
    • Bleeding in the brain
    • Maternal drug use(when a pregnant woman uses drugs during pregnancy)
    Infants and Children
    • Fever (seizures caused by a fever are called “febrile seizures”)
    • Infections
    • Brain tumor
    Children and Adults
    • Congenital conditions (something you’re born with) like Down's syndrome, Angelman's syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and neurofibromatosis
    • Genetic (inherited) factors
    • Head trauma
    • Progressive brain disease
    Older Adults
    • Stroke
    • Alzheimer's disease
    • Head trauma

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    Find the Right Treatment

    Ready for help? Work with an epilepsy specialist who can help explore the potential causes of your epilepsy.