Risk Factors


These risk factors give you a higher chance of developing epilepsy:

Age: Epilepsy can begin at any age, but more people are diagnosed at two distinct phases in life: childhood and after age 60.


Brain infections: Infections, such as meningitis, inflame the brain and spinal cord and can increase your risk for developing epilepsy.


Childhood seizures: Some children develop seizures not related to epilepsy during their childhood years. Very high fevers may cause these seizures. As they grow older, some of these children may develop epilepsy.


Dementia: People experiencing a decline in mental function may also develop epilepsy. This is most common in older adults.


Family history: If a close family member has epilepsy, you are more likely to develop this disorder.


Head injuries: Previous falls, concussions, or injuries to your head may cause epilepsy. Taking precautions during activities such as bicycling, skiing, and riding a motorcycle can help protect your head against injury and possibly prevent a future epilepsy diagnosis.


Vascular diseases: Blood vessel diseases and strokes can cause brain damage. Damage to any area of the brain may trigger seizures and eventually epilepsy. The best way to prevent epilepsy caused by vascular diseases is to care for your heart and blood vessels with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Also, avoid tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.



Having epilepsy increases your risk for certain complications. Some of these complications are more common than others.

The most common complications include:

  • Car accidents. Many states do not issue driver’s licenses to people with a history of seizures until they have been seizure-free for a specified period of time. A seizure can cause loss of awareness and affect your ability to control a car. You could injure yourself or others if you have a seizure while driving.
  • Drowning. People with epilepsy are 15 to 19 times more likely to drown than the rest of the population. That’s because people with epilepsy may have a seizure while in a swimming pool, lake, bathtub, or other bodies of water. They may be unable to move or may lose awareness of their situation during the seizure. If you swim and have a history of seizures, make sure a lifeguard on duty is aware of your condition. Never swim alone.
  • Emotional health difficulties. Unfortunately, the emotional toll of epilepsy may be too great for some people to bear alone. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and actions are possible complications.
  • Falling. Certain types of seizures affect your motor movements. You may lose control of your muscle function during a seizure and fall to the ground, hit your head on nearby objects, and even break a bone.
  • Pregnancy-related complications. Women with epilepsy can get pregnant and have healthy pregnancies and babies, but extra precaution is needed. Some anti-seizure medications can cause birth defects, so you and your doctor need to carefully evaluate your medicines before you plan to get pregnant.


Less common complications include:

  • Status epilepticus. Severe seizures, ones that are prolonged or happen very frequently, can cause status epilepticus. People with this condition are more likely to develop permanent brain damage.
  • Sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Sudden, unexplained death is possible in people with epilepsy, but it is rare. Only two to 18 percent of people with epilepsy die from SUDEP. Doctors do not know what causes SUDEP, but one theory suggests heart and respiratory issues may contribute to death.