Because "epilepsy" is actually an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders, it can have many causes. "We always try to pinpoint a cause because it can impact our course of treatment," explains Orrin Devinsky, M.D., a neurologist and director of the NYU Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Of course there are times when we just won't know what triggers a child's seizures. But the good news is that about 75 percent of children with epilepsy do outgrow the condition." Neurologists can often determine the type and cause of epilepsy based on your child's electroencephalograph (EEG), which is a test that measures electrical activity in the brain.
One thing we know that doesn't cause epilepsy: vaccines. "Extensive research has failed to find a connection," Dr. Devinsky says. In rare cases, a child may experience a seizure in the days following an immunization, but it is almost always an isolated febrile seizure as a result of a fever and will not lead to epilepsy.
It's important to understand that even if your child experiences a potential cause of epilepsy (such as a moderate head injury), it's certainly not a given that he will develop a seizure disorder. Researchers are still trying to understand why some people have lower "seizure thresholds" and appear more susceptible to epilepsy than others do, but genetics, hormones, sleep deprivation, and many other variables appear to play a role. Here are some factors that may increase your child's risk for developing epilepsy:
Even if doctors are unable to pinpoint the cause of your child's epilepsy, you can help reduce her risk for seizures by paying attention to lifestyle factors that seem to increase her risk for an episode. Common seizure triggers for children include:
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