Epilepsy Causes

Epilepsy is a neurological disease that affects almost three million people in the United States, and some 65 million worldwide. It is the fourth most common neurological disease. People of all ages can be diagnosed with epilepsy although it is most common in children, especially during their first year of life, and the elderly. The disease is found in all ethnic groups, but people of Hispanic origin seem to have a slightly higher rate of occurrence. Studies looking at gender have found men tend to have epilepsy more than women, but the difference is small. 

The word epilepsy means seizure disorder and is thought to occur when the brain's electrical firings go haywire overloading the brain's ability to control motor function. It is these uncontrolled spasms that many people identify as an epileptic seizure, but seizures come in many different forms. To be diagnosed with epilepsy, a person must have suffered at least two seizures not due to a known and reversible cause such as low blood sugar or alcohol withdrawal. 

The cause of epilepsy in not fully understood, and in fact about 60% of the cases of epilepsy are called idiopathic, that means the cause is unidentified. Some known conditions that may lead to a person becoming epileptic include traumatic brain injury and genetic malformations for people of any age. Infants and very young children are likely to be diagnosed if their mothers used drugs during pregnancy, suffered from intracranial bleeding, a lack of oxygen during birth, or have certain metabolic disorders. 

As children age, the factors causing epilepsy change to include episodes of high fever, and some infections. Older adults can be diagnosed as a result of stroke, brain trauma and tumors, or in some cases Alzheimer's disease has been shown to have a correlation with seizures. Use of cocaine has also been identified as a risk factor for developing epilepsy. 

There is some basis to think that epilepsy has a genetic component, and children of families with a history of epilepsy do tend to have a slightly elevated risk of contracting the disease. However, research has yet to identify a specific genetic marker that provides conclusive evidence for this theory. For children of families where both parents have seizures, the tendency is for the children to have a form called generalized epilepsy. In this type of the disease, seizures tend to originate from both sides of the brain rather than from a localized part or from only one side.