Epilepsy – risk factors

Epilepsy – risk factors

Risk factors

Several factors may have links to an increased risk of epilepsy. According to a 2017 research review in the journal NeuroToxicology, these factors include:

  • age, with new cases occurring more frequently in young children and older adults
  • brain injuries and tumors
  • genetics and family history
  • alcohol consumption
  • perinatal factors, such as stroke and preterm birth
  • central nervous system infections, such as bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis, and neurocysticercosis

Some risk factors, such as alcohol consumption, are modifiable when trying to prevent the development of epilepsy.

Is it curable?

There is currently no cure for epilepsy, but people with the condition can usually manage their symptoms.

According to the WHO, up to 70% of people with epilepsy can experience a reduction in their seizure frequency and severity with antiseizure medications. Around half of all people with epilepsy may be able to stop taking medications after 2 years without a seizure.

In some cases, surgery can also reduce or eliminate seizures when drugs are ineffective.

This can have long-term benefits. In one 2018 study, 47% of the participants reported no debilitating seizures 5 years after surgery, and 38% reported the same after 10 years.


The WHO explain that around 25% of epilepsy cases are preventable. People can reduce the risk of developing epilepsy by following these steps:

  • wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle, to help prevent head injuries
  • seeking perinatal care, to prevent epilepsy from birth injuries
  • managing risk factors for stroke and heart disease, which could cause brain damage that results in epilepsy
  • practicing good hygiene and preventative methods to avoid cysticercosis, an infection that is the most common cause of epilepsy around the world, according to the CDC.

A 2015 review of research in the journal Seizure also suggested that regular physical activity may help prevent the development of epilepsy and reduce how often seizures occur.

It is not possible to prevent all cases of epilepsy. However, taking the above steps may help reduce the risk.


Depending on the situation, seizures may lead to negative outcomes such as drowning or vehicle accidents. Long lasting seizures, or status epilepticus, may also cause brain damage or death.

People with epilepsy are eight times more likely than people without it to experience certain other chronic conditions, including dementia, migraine, heart disease, and depression. Some of these conditions could also make seizures worse.

Other complications may occur due to the side effects of antiseizure medications. For example, one 2015 study found that 9.98% of people taking the antiseizure drug lamotrigine (Lamictal) developed a skin rash.

Rash can also occur with other AEDs, including phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital. The rash usually disappears once the person stops taking the medication. However, 0.8%–1.3% of adults developed a serious rash that could be fatal.

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