Epilepsy: risk factors

This section outlines the risk factors for epilepsy - the underlying causes of the condition.

In most cases, the condition is described as "idiopathic epilepsy", meaning that the cause of epilepsy is not fully understood. It is thought that attacks are caused by abnormalities in neurotransmitters, chemicals which regulate electrical impulses in the brain. Part of the cause may be genetic, and in some rare cases the exact gene defect is well understood.

Sometimes epilepsy is caused by a specific illness or problem relating to the brain. This kind of epilepsy is termed "symptomatic" and is commoner in older life. Examples of health problems that may cause this kind of epilepsy include:

  • Developmental problems that started in childhood
  • Head injury
  • Strokes
  • Tumours
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Chronic alcohol abuse