Epilepsy Home > Cause of Epilepsy

In about half of all epilepsy cases, the cause is unknown. When the cause of epilepsy is known, it may be one of several things, including head trauma, developmental problems, and poisoning. Brain damage resulting from other conditions (such as a brain tumor or stroke) can also cause the condition. Research on epilepsy suggests that genetics may play a role in some types of the disorder.

What Is the Cause of Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a disorder with many possible causes. Anything that disturbs the normal pattern of neuron activity -- from illness to brain damage to abnormal brain development -- can lead to seizures.
 
In about half of all epilepsy cases, the cause is not known.
 
When the cause of epilepsy is known, it may be one of the following:
 
  • Other medical conditions
  • Trauma
  • Developmental problems
  • Poisoning.
     
Epilepsy is not contagious and is not caused by mental illness or mental retardation.
 

Epilepsy Causes: Understanding the Brain

Epilepsy may develop because of an abnormality in brain wiring, an imbalance of nerve-signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters, or some combination of these factors.
 
Neurotransmitters
Researchers believe that some people with epilepsy have an abnormally high level of excitatory neurotransmitters that increase neuronal activity, while others have an abnormally low level of inhibitory neurotransmitters that decrease neuronal activity in the brain. Either situation can result in too much neuronal activity and cause epilepsy.
 
One of the most-studied neurotransmitters involved in epilepsy is GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Research on GABA has led to drugs that alter the amount of this neurotransmitter in the brain or change how the brain responds to it. Researchers are also studying excitatory neurotransmitters, such as glutamate.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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