Epilepsy can affect anyone of any age, race, or gender. It can always be prevented, but some of its risk factors are modifiable. Knowing the risk factors of epilepsy may help some people avoid this central nervous system condition.
Epilepsy affects an estimated 3.4 million people in the U.S. This is about 1.2% of the country’s population, reports the CDC. It is a brain disorder that causes seizures.
Doctors cannot always determine the cause of epilepsy in every patient. However, researchers have discovered several links between epilepsy and certain factors. Knowing these factors may help you reduce your risk for epilepsy—especially if this condition runs in your family.
Here are several risk factors that have been linked to epilepsy and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center for a medical evaluation and diagnosis.
Genetics and Family History
Epilepsy can sometimes be caused by defects or abnormalities in the brain. If you inherit certain genes or brain defects from your parents, you could be at greater risk for epilepsy. You are also more likely to get it if someone in your family has this condition.
Genetics and family history are risk factors for epilepsy that cannot be changed. If you meet these risk factors, talk to your doctor about ways to stay healthy and prevent epilepsy.
Trauma To the Head
A person can develop epilepsy after suffering trauma, or a blow, to the head. Car accidents and sports injuries that affect the head are common causes of epilepsy.
Head trauma cannot always be avoided, but there are things you can do to increase your safety. Wear a seat belt at all times when in a car. Wear protective headgear or helmets when performing certain activities. For example, wear a helmet when riding your bicycle or when playing contact sports like football and hockey.
Tumors and tangled blood vessels in the brain (known as arteriovenous malformations) are examples of brain defects that may lead to epilepsy. If you have any type of brain defect, your doctor will talk to you about related risks, including epilepsy and seizures. In some instances, treating the brain condition may reduce your risk.
Any infection that affects your central nervous system may increase your risk for epilepsy. Meningitis is an infection that commonly leads to epilepsy. It occurs when the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. Other brain infections that may increase your risk for epilepsy are HIV, viral encephalitis, and infections caused by parasites.
Babies whose brains are affected in the womb may be at higher risk for epilepsy. Brain damage in the womb may be caused by poor nutrition in the mother or lack of oxygen. It may also be caused by an infection in the mom. If you plan on becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about ways to prevent prenatal injuries in your child.
According to the Autism Research Institute, children aged 10 years and older with autism are 2.35 times more likely to get epilepsy. Autism and other developmental disorders have been linked to epilepsy. This may occur due to mutations in certain genes in the brain. It may also occur due to genetic conditions linked to both autism and epilepsy. Rett syndrome and tuberous sclerosis complex are some disorders related to both autism and epilepsy.
Epilepsy can affect anyone of any age. However, its onset is most common among children and middle-aged adults. The CDC says about 0.6% of children through age 17 have active epilepsy, which is about six cases in every 1,000 students. According to a study published in the International Journal of General Medicine, adults between the ages of 40 and 59 are 1.8 times more likely to get epilepsy than adults between the ages of 20 and 39.
Kids who have seizures may be at higher risk for developing epilepsy. Causes of seizures in children include high or low blood sugar, lack of sleep, and high fevers. If you have kids, talk to your doctor about ways to reduce their risk for seizures. This is especially important if you have a family history of seizures or epilepsy.
A stroke occurs when there is a disruption in blood flow to the brain. This type of brain change can increase the risk of epilepsy.
The most effective way to avoid stroke-induced epilepsy is to practice healthy behaviors that reduce your risk for stroke in the first place. Steps you can take to reduce stroke include managing your blood pressure and cholesterol and maintaining a healthy weight. Quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, and exercising regularly are other ways to prevent stroke.
If you meet risk factors for stroke (such as diabetes or heart disease), talk to your doctor about the best ways to reduce your risk.
Vascular diseases are diseases that affect your blood vessels. Peripheral artery disease, atherosclerosis, and aneurysm are common types of vascular diseases. Conditions like these have the potential to damage the brain and increase your risk for epilepsy.
According to the study mentioned previously, never being married is a high-risk factor for epilepsy. It says that people who have seizures in public often feel embarrassed. It adds that 36% of people with epilepsy keep it a secret due to fear of discrimination. Also, compared with the general population, people with epilepsy are less likely to get married and more likely to get divorced.
The study goes on to say that people who suffer from seizures tend to get less emotional support from their relatives. As a result, they tend to have poorer health. This is the main factor that increases their risk for epilepsy.
Lack of sleep may worsen seizures, says the International Journal of General Medicinestudy. Seizures can occur in people with insomnia. People who suffer seizures tend to sleep more poorly than people who don’t have seizures. This increases their risk of developing epilepsy.
Research shows that people with epilepsy are twice as likely to have sleep disorders than those without this condition. It also shows that the absence of a sleep disorder is a protective factor for epilepsy. This means that if you do not have a sleep disorder, you are less likely to ever have epilepsy.
Can Epilepsy Be Reversed?
There is currently no cure for epilepsy—meaning it cannot necessarily be reversed. However, it can usually be managed and controlled with medication. Anti-seizure medications may help prevent seizures or reduce their symptoms. These medications may also help you experience seizures less often.
If medications do not help you manage epilepsy, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may be useful if your doctor can identify the part of the brain causing your seizures. However, surgery may only be performed if that particular part of your brain doesn’t also control your speech, language, vision, hearing, or motor function. During surgery for epilepsy, a surgeon will remove the area of your brain causing seizures.
Other therapies that may be used to treat seizures are vagus nerve stimulation, deep brain stimulation, and a special diet.
In vagus nerve stimulation, a small device similar to a pacemaker is implanted in your chest. It sends bursts of electrical energy to your brain through the vagus nerve. This reduces seizures.
In deep brain stimulation, a surgeon implants electrodes into the brain. These electrodes are connected to a generator that is implanted in your chest. The generator sends electrical energy to the brain to reduce seizures.
A diet high in fats and low in carbohydrates may also reduce seizures. This type of diet is known as a ketogenic diet. Your doctor may refer you to a nutritionist or dietitian who can help you create a ketogenic diet plan if this is an ideal treatment option for you.
When To See Your Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you think you may be at risk for epilepsy. Your doctor can review your personal and family medical history and talk to you about your risk. In some instances, your doctor may suggest practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors to prevent it.
Talk to your doctor right away if you recently had a seizure for the first time. Here are other reasons to see your doctor for epilepsy:
- You have a seizure that lasts longer than five minutes.
- You suffer another seizure immediately after the first seizure.
- You are pregnant.
- You have diabetes.
- You have a high fever.
- You injured yourself in some way while having a seizure.
- You keep having seizures even though you are taking medication to control seizures.
- Your breathing didn’t return after your seizure stopped.
- You didn’t regain consciousness after your seizure stopped.
Someone else will need to contact emergency medical services if your breathing hasn’t returned or you don’t regain consciousness after a seizure. These are medical emergencies that require immediate treatment. Make sure your friends and relatives know to do this if you experience a seizure or are at risk for epilepsy.
Healthcare Services At Lompoc Valley Medical Center
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of highly experienced board-certified doctors who can diagnose and treat a wide range of health conditions, including epilepsy. We can also work with you to reduce your symptoms and the risk of related complications. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment, and to learn about our many other healthcare services.