Causes of Epilepsy and Seizures

Causes of Epilepsy and Seizures

Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Epilepsy Center offers genetic counseling and testing for adult patients with epilepsy. We are proud to be one of the only institutions in the country that offers this specialized program.

The tendency of someone’s brain to seize spontaneously is called epilepsy. The reasons for epilepsy can be divided in the following categories:

A genetic predisposition or a structural abnormality of the brain are the most common causes for spontaneous, recurrent seizures also known as epilepsy. But most people who have a seizure do not have epilepsy and the seizure was triggered by something else, including:

  • High fever, which can be associated with an infection such as meningitis
  • Lack of sleep
  • Low blood sodium (hyponatremia), which can happen with diuretic therapy
  • Medications, such as certain pain relievers, antidepressants or smoking cessation therapies, that lower the seizure threshold
  • Head trauma that causes an area of bleeding in the brain
  • Stroke
  • Illegal or recreational drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine
  • Alcohol abuse, during times of withdrawal or extreme intoxication
  • Repetitive sounds, flashing lights or video games (rarely)

Understanding the cause of a seizure will help your physician determine what form of medication or type of treatment would be most beneficial for your seizure disorder.