There are a number of factors that increase a person’s risk of developing epilepsy, including brain injury (due to trauma, infection or oxygen deprivation); scarring of the brain tissue; a brain tumour; and chemical/hormonal imbalances. These ‘events’ are thought to explain approximately 30% of epilepsy diagnoses.
Some types of epilepsy have a genetic component, and Epilepsy Research UK is currently funding a number of studies to identify culprit genes. For example:
- Professor Angus Clarke and colleagues, at Cardiff University, have been trying to identify the genes that are associated with a range of severe epileptic syndromes known as the infantile epileptic encaphalopathies. You can read about their findings here.
- Dr Mar Matarin, at University College London, is investigating whether certain genes are linked to mesial temporal lobe epilepsy with hippocampal sclerosis. You can discover more here.
In approximately 60% of cases the cause of epilepsy is not known, and it is then called ‘idiopathic epilepsy’. For those affected the mechanisms underlying their epilepsy are not understood, and so the best course of treatment is often unclear. Genetics is thought to play a large role in idiopathic epilepsies, but other factors are also being uncovered.
In 2012 Epilepsy Research UK awarded a grant to Dr Bethan Lang and colleagues, at the University of Oxford, to explore whether certain immune responses might be the cause of (currently) idiopathic epilepsy in some people. You can read about their findings here.