Importance of knowing what causes epilepsy

Seizures are symptoms of an abnormality in brain functions. It’s important for everyone to know what causes epilepsy. The root cause of abnormal brain functioning is generally identifiable in kids but not in adults. But when these seizures begin, the doctor will have to identify the underlying etiology or cause. What is the reason for this? The specific diagnosis as to the reason why these seizures are happening largely depends on finding the root cause, effective therapy, as well as prognosis.

causes epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain caused by a variety of factors. It is said that as early as infancy, a person can be diagnosed if he is epileptic or not. How? One way is by simply tracing it from the person’s parents. This disorder can be passed on from parents to their children. This disorder is a big deal among doctors and the global community because of the reason that anyone can become epileptic regardless of location, gender, and age.

Studies have indicated that epilepsy can be linked to genetic and hereditary factors; in fact, approximately 50% of all individuals diagnosed with epilepsy have a hereditary basis for the condition.  This is known as primary epilepsy where the cause for seizure is genetic or unidentified. Individuals diagnosed with secondary epilepsy will have direct causes for dysfunction in the brain. Among these individuals, the abnormal reaction of electrical transmission in the brain is caused by severe prior head injuries or as a symptom of a separate neurological condition. The range of symptoms varies in degrees of severity and triggers of seizures can also differ greatly; therefore, it is best that epilepsy is understood on an individual basis.

Detecting this disorder from a person as early as possible matters but the most important thing that all doctors are trying to achieve is finding the exact cure for this disorder. That is always the main goal of researchers and scientists when it comes to fighting diseases. One worse time when epilepsy occurs for the first time is during adulthood. This may ruin a career, or worse, the life of a person if he is diagnosed during this time. That is why anyone must have a brief idea bout adult-onset epilepsy in order to avoid confusion and other harmful effects to the person affected.

Adult-onset epilepsy: who are prone to this?

Adult-onset epilepsy is usually acquired in a not natural way. The following are the few causes of having epilepsy in adults:

– Head trauma – this may be caused by accidents that involve hitting the head and inflicting injury to the brain which leads to having epilepsy.

– Tumor – a tumor in the brain may cause an irregularity of the electrical charges of the brain which will also lead to having epilepsy.

– Infection – diseases like meningitis and measles may cause damage to the brain which may turn to be the cause of having epilepsy.

Alcohol and drugs can also cause the development of an epileptic disorder. Chronic alcoholism for 7 years or more often causes alcoholic epilepsy. The epilepsy definition of alcohol sounds like a chronic disease that causes seizures and convulsions due to the poisoning of the body with ethyl alcohol. Narcotic drugs have a similar effect on the nervous system. But can you believe that narcotics can be a cure? This refers to medical marijuana as one of the effective alternative treatments for adult epilepsy.

Brain herniation is the displacement of portions of the brain from where they normally belong. This is most often caused by a tumor or head injury. There is a risk associated with brain herniation of prolonged seizure. This is called status epilepticus. A prolonged seizure is any seizure lasting more than 5 minutes. Any seizure lasting more than 5 minutes should be treated as a medical emergency. Call 911 and have the patient brought to an emergency room for evaluation and treatment. Note a prolonged seizure does not cause brain herniation.  Brain herniation can cause a prolonged seizure.  Both are serious conditions.

Seizures at high altitude


There are documented cases of seizures occurring as a result of high altitudes. This may be because of the higher altitude lowers the seizure threshold. Several cases have been reported where there was a history of epilepsy or seizure disorder. The seizures were under control and the persons had since stopped taking their medications.  The exposure to high altitudes exasperated the condition and caused a relapse.  Further, some have reported their first epileptic seizure to occur when exposed. This could be as young as twelve but should not be confused with febrile seizures which normally is outgrown by age 3. Persons with previous seizure history should consult with a neurologist prior to exposure to heights greater than 3300 feet. This does not include air travel as planes are pressurized.  If you have a history and plan on taking a journey above 3300 feet you should consider taking along a Gamow Bag. A Gamow Bag is a plastic bag that fits a person.  It is pumped with air simulating a lower altitude pressure. Also, ask your neurologist about Diazepam.  It is an emergency use rectally administered drug for use during seizure flurry or a prolonged seizure.

The common misconceptions linked to epilepsy

Epilepsy Is contagious

The greatest misconception is that epilepsy is contagious, and one will “catch the condition” by spending time with a diagnosed epileptic.  This is not true at all. Epilepsy is a neurological condition and is not contagious in any way.

Epilepsy is a mental illness

Mental illness is a psychological condition with emotional effects and epilepsy does not fall into this category. Epilepsy is a physical medical condition (neurological) and presents with physical manifestations (seizures). This chronic condition is one that affects one’s motor functions during the seizure and has no influence on the individual’s psyche.

People with epilepsy are disabled

One discriminatory misconception is that people with epilepsy are disabled and not productive members of society. This is not true in the least. The majority of people with epilepsy are high functioning, intelligent individuals who contribute to society and may have occasional seizures. The various treatments available for people with epilepsy have made it possible for these individuals to control seizures and function as effectively as those who do not have epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a rare medical condition

Contrary to popular belief, epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in the global population. Statistics indicate that approximately 1 in every ten individuals has been diagnosed with a form of epilepsy. Unfortunately, while there are many treatment options available they are not all successful; hence, the need for continued medical research into this condition. 

Dr. Ali Elahi

This article is written by Dr. Ali Elahi, a specialist in neuromuscular disorders, certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). His expertise includes evaluation and treatment of patients with epilepsy, stroke, headache, neuromuscular disease, and cerebral palsy.He also manages neurological emergencies in the Intensive Care Units.

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