So what can cause epilepsy?
There are a number of identifiable factors that increase a person’s risk of developing epilepsy, including brain injury or trauma which may cause scarring on the brain; infection, such as meningitis or encephalitis; a stroke or oxygen deprivation. In addition, there are autoimmune disorders which affect multiple organ systems and frequently involve inflammation of the central nervous system, in which seizures are a core symptom. Brain tumours; chemical and/or hormonal imbalances and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s may also cause epileptic seizures.
Some types of epilepsy have a genetic component, either caused by a malformation in the development of the cerebral cortex, or from a known genetic mutation. It is thought that about one in three people with epilepsy have a family member with the condition and that it is a propensity to a low seizure threshold which leads to the development of epilepsy rather than inheriting epilepsy itself.
Epilepsy Research UK is currently funding a number of studies looking into the genetics of epilepsy, using genetic information to both diagnose epilepsy and to try to find a way to prevent the condition. In our Research Roundtable webinar on the topic, we hear from the experts and people with lived experience about the underlying genetic causes of epilepsy, how identifying genes linked to epilepsy could improve treatments, and how ground-breaking gene therapy could offer hope for the future. You can watch a recording of this session below or read more here.
For the majority of people where no clear cause is present, treatment pathways can be complex
Many people with epilepsy may find that their seizures are provoked by certain events, called seizure triggers. Triggers do not cause epilepsy but make it more likely that a seizure will occur. Not all people with epilepsy will have triggers and seizure triggers will be different for everyone.
For approximately 3% of people with epilepsy, seizures can be triggered by flashing or flickering lights (photosensitive epilepsy) or certain geometric patterns.
Both natural and artificial light sources can trigger parts of the brain to act abnormally, and this can lead to a seizure. Tonic clonic seizures are the most frequent type of seizure induced by flickering lights and television, sometimes preceded by myoclonic jerks.
Photosensitivity affects more girls than boys and it appears to be most common between the ages of 12 and 16. Statistics show that more than 30% of people with juvenile myoclonic epilepsy are photosensitive. They also show that the majority of children who are photosensitive grow out of it in their early to mid-twenties.
Other common seizure triggers reported are:
- Failure to take medication as prescribed
- Feeling tired
- Alcohol and recreational drugs