What are the Risk Factors for Epilepsy?

Tuesday 29 December 2020
Seizure Disorders

Table of Contents


I. Risk Management and the Fear Factor

II. How Age Plays a Role

III. Pre-Existing Health Conditions

IV. Head Injuries, Infections, and Dementia

V. The Importance of Childhood

VI. Family History and Related Risks

VII. Preventive Steps and Precautions


Risk Management and the Fear Factor

There is a fine line between knowing the risks of a health condition and fearing them. Epilepsy can be a scary condition to face. The purpose of explaining the risk factors of epilepsy is to make sure the correct precautions and preventive measures are taken. Those at a high risk of epilepsy should understand that drugs like Lamictal (lamotrigine), Dilantin, and Topamax (topiramate) are available to treat symptoms and control the frequency of seizures. Additionally, resources and community support are readily available with a quick Internet search.

How Age Plays a Role

Epilepsy is most often diagnosed in children and the elderly. Why are people on the two ends of the age spectrum more prone to this condition? What accounts for this bias?

Epilepsy can start at any point in life. However, people under 20 and over 65 are at a higher risk because they generally possess more risk factors. Young people are more active than middle-aged people, making them likelier to sustain injuries and head trauma. Concerts and festivals often showcase laser shows and intense light effects. These visual patterns can trigger an adolescent’s photosensitive epilepsy. Difficulties at birth and infections early on in life are also some major causes of epilepsy that only apply to younger people.

a toddler wearing a helmet while riding a bicycle

As a person gradually leaves their younger years behind, they become naturally more vulnerable to vascular diseases that can cause epilepsy. A stroke may lead to brain damage, which can trigger the condition. Similarly, dementia is another cause of epilepsy, which is a condition diagnosed in older people. Underlying conditions can include degenerative neuron disorders and brain tumors. These are often factors more prevalent in older people. [1] [2]

Pre-Existing Health Conditions

A pre-existing health condition like a neurological issue or a vascular disorder are disorders that can increase your risk of epilepsy. Having one or more of the following may make you more likely to be affected by the condition: 

  • Brain trauma
  • Brain tumors
  • Infections
  • Autism
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease

Pre-existing health conditions do not just increase the likelihood of epilepsy; any underlying condition may also cause unpredictable complications. A seizure occurring at the same time as a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can have lethal consequences. [3] [4]

Head Injuries, Infections, and Dementia

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause seizures right after an injury occurs or several years after. The different types of TBIs can range in symptom severity. Mild concussions and life-threatening injuries can seriously alter memory, balance, language, and emotions. Research suggests that those who suffer from severe cases of TBIs often have a higher risk of developing epilepsy than those with less serious brain injuries. Hospitalized TBI patients aged 15 and older have about a 10 percent chance of developing epilepsy within three years. [5]

Infections in the central nervous system are among the most common causes of epilepsy, especially in developing countries. Any inflammation in your spinal cord and your brain can also increase the risk of epilepsy. Some infectious causes include:

  • Bacterial Meningitis (Meningoencephalitis)
  • Cerebral Malaria
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • HIV
  • Tuberculosis
  • Viral Encephalitis [6] [7]

an elderly couple sit on a bench overlooking a mountain range

The Importance of Childhood

The phase between birth and adolescence may be one of the most important developmental stages in a person’s life. Physically and emotionally, childhood is a time where events can affect a person’s health well into their later years.

As mentioned, children are more susceptible to some causes of epilepsy. It is important to note that children who have epilepsy may display specific characteristics that often go undetected. In school, a child experiencing a seizure may appear to be daydreaming. Any unusual sensations that a child experiences, like repetitive movements or a strange taste in their mouth, might go unreported.

Nocturnal seizures may leave a child feeling confused the next morning. Signs like these may warrant a trip to your doctor. Your child’s physician may recommend an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. If you suspect your child is experiencing seizures, bringing your child in for a checkup is a good idea. [3] {{8}} 

Family History and Related Risks

Since the late 1990s, hundreds of epilepsy-related genes have been discovered. Of these genes, many of them are directly related to epilepsy. Because some types of epilepsy are both genetic and hereditary, finding out your family’s medical history can help. However, those who are genetically more likely to get epilepsy may not ever get it. Regardless, assessing your own risk can let you know the correct precautions to take. Talking with your doctor about your genetic disposition for epilepsy can also help future generations manage their risk down the line. {{9}}

a child getting her temperature checked

Preventive Steps and Precautions

Being aware of any underlying health conditions is a big step toward lowering your risk of epilepsy. Frequent checkups can ensure head injuries and infections are treated before they cause damage to the brain. Learning the signs of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) is important. Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or remembering are all signs that you may have sustained a TBI. [5]

Detecting and assessing the risk of epilepsy in children may be challenging. However, proper attentiveness and observation can usually go a long way in helping your child get the right help. Some children who develop epilepsy before the age of 12 may outgrow it. A ketogenic diet is also known to reduce the frequency and seriousness of seizures. [3]

Leading a balanced life and taking precautions, like wearing a helmet when biking, can make a big difference and significantly reduce factors that cause epilepsy. It comes down to knowing your health, genes, family history, and limits.

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.