Epilepsy - What is the cause and who gets it? - Epilepsy Queensland


Epilepsy is a chronic, non-communicable (not contagious) neurological condition that can affect anyone, at any time point in their life. There are many causes, however in 50% of cases, the cause is unable to be determined.

What causes epilepsy?

There are many known causes of epilepsy, which are classified as structural, metabolic, immune, genetic and unknown. Epilepsy can also occur due to specific brain infections that are not contagious. Often it is impossible to define the cause.

Some examples include:

  • severe head or brain injury
  • loss of oxygen to the brain (hypoxia)
  • stroke
  • brain malformation
  • fetal brain damage that occurs during pregnancy or after birth (trauma or low birth weight)
  • infection of the brain such as  such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • brain tumours or cysts
  • cerebrovascular degeneration in the elderly (such as Alzheimer’s)
  • genetic causes

Epilepsy with a genetic basis may be inherited in the family or they may be caused by a new genetic abnormality that occurs during the earliest stage of foetal development. Current research has identified that in many cases of epilepsy in very young children, genetics play an important role. But genetics can be a factor in developing epilepsy at any age. It appears that certain people are simply more prone to having seizures than others. This is, at times, described as having a ‘low-seizure threshold’. A history of seizures in the family makes it more likely for them to develop epilepsy.


Who gets epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a common neurological condition that affects approximately 50 million people globally.

Epilepsy can affect people of any age, sex, nationality, cultural or socio-economic background, level of intelligence or location.

In a report prepared for Epilepsy Australia by Deloitte Access Economics “The economic burden of epilepsy in Australia 2019-2020”,  there will be an estimated 142,740 people living with active (i.e. continuing seizures or with the need for treatment) epilepsy in Australia across 2019-2020.


The above information has been abstracted from The World Health Organisation.


You are not alone.

You can find more facts about epilepsy, including many great and famous people that reportedly had epilepsy, in the factsheet below.

Epilepsy Queensland