Causes of epilepsy | About epilepsy

Causes of epilepsy

The causes of epilepsy generally falls into three groups:

  • Genetic: there is known genetic defects meaning that seizures are the symptoms.
  • Structural or metabolic: there is another condition or disease causing seizures.
  • Unknown: where the reason for epilepsy is currently unknown.

The majority of epilepsies (around 60%) have no known cause.

If your child has epilepsy or has had seizures but doesn’t have a diagnosis yet, we have lots of information and resources to support you.

Epilepsy guides, handbooks and diaries


Genetic causes

We are discovering more and more about the role genes play in epilepsy. There are certain types of epilepsy that are known to have a genetic cause. These include Benign Rolandic Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy. Other inherited conditions are known to cause epilepsy (e.g. Tuberous Sclerosis).

It is impossible to accurately say whether or not a child of someone with epilepsy will inherit the condition. This is because there are so many types of epilepsy and different factors as to whether a child might inherit it.

Some people just have a low seizure threshold and this means that they are less able to cope with the burst of electrical activity, making them more vulnerable to stresses on the brain. This is thought to have a genetic basis.

One of our research projects is currently looking into the link between genes and epilepsy.

If you are concerned about the possibility of your child inheriting epilepsy, you should raise this question with your doctor. They will know what type of epilepsy you have and whether it is a type that will tend to run in families.

They can also refer you to a genetic counsellor and they will be able to give you much more precise information.

Structural or metabolic causes

Epilepsy may be caused if brain cells are damaged or the delicate balance of chemicals needed to produce electrical discharges are disturbed. Some of these causes are:

  • Damage to brain during development or birth
  • Bleeding in the brain
  • Infections in the brain
  • Head injury
  • Growths or tumours in the brain
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic conditions such as hypoglycaemia
  • An underlying brain condition
  • Drugs and alcohol


Our dedicated Helpline can provide further information, resources and support. For a private, confidential chat, call us on 01342 831342 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Helpline: 01342 831342 (Mon-Fri, 9am-3pm)
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More than one in five people with epilepsy have learning or intellectual disabilities.

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