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.

NB: Young Epilepsy are currently reviewing our information portfolio, and will be updated October 2023.

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.


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.

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

Also in this section

Diagnosing epilepsy

Getting a diagnosis of epilepsy can often take some time. Only until there have been two or more seizures that a diagnosis of epilepsy will be considered

Epilepsy treatment

The main aim of treating epilepsy is to improve the person's quality of life by preventing seizures but also causing minimum side effects

Epilepsy seizures

An epileptic seizure happens because of a disruption of the electrical activity in the brain

Epilepsy syndromes

A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms which, if they occur together, can suggest a particular condition

Epilepsy & contraception

It is important that all teenagers are given information about the effects of AEDs on contraception and pregnancy before they become sexually active

Epilepsy & pregnancy

Some medication can have an effect on the development of the baby so it's important that you discuss planning a pregnancy with your consultant, epilepsy nurse or GP