Can Epilepsy Be Prevented?

Many cases of epilepsy are not preventable but some are preventable by reducing the risk of developing one of the underlying causes. For example:

  • Good prenatal care (including adequate nutritional status, detection of high-risk pregnancies, and control of high blood pressure and infectious diseases during pregnancy) can prevent brain damage in the developing baby that may lead to epilepsy. Such measures also may reduce the risk of complications during labor and delivery that may lead to epilepsy in the child. Various infections in childhood and adolescence may affect the central nervous system and possibly lead to epilepsy. To reduce the likelihood of these infections, appropriate immunizations (vaccinations) are essential.
  • Traumatic head injury – a common cause of epilepsy – may result from accidents. To reduce the risk, make sure that children are always restrained in car seats; older children and adults should wear seat belts. Similarly, helmets should always be worn while riding a bicycle, motor cycle or horse or while skating or skiing. Helmets are needed for both children and adults who play football, softball, baseball, or ice hockey or engage in contact sports such as boxing. In older adults, falls may pose an increased risk for head and brain injuries. Taking appropriate steps to minimize the possibility of falls in the home and outside may reduce this risk as well.
  • People who have suffered a stroke (also known as a cerebrovascular accident) also are at increased risk for epilepsy. In fact, nearly one in four stroke victims go on to develop epilepsy. To reduce the likelihood of stroke, it is important to reduce or treat the numerous risk factors that may set the stage for stroke during adulthood. These include physical inactivity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol levels and cigarette smoking.
  • It may be worthwhile for parents to have genetic counseling if one or both of them has epilepsy, a neurologic or a genetic condition linked with epilepsy. If a parent has epilepsy, the risk of having a child with epilepsy is higher than the general population but overall most parents with epilepsy have children without epilepsy. Researchers have found that the risk of epilepsy is about twice as high in children of women with epilepsy than in children of men who have epilepsy. There are genetic conditions which place a patient at risk for epilepsy, for example a condition called neurofibromatosis. If a prospective parent has such a condition, genetic counseling will help the prospective parent/parents understand the likelihood of a biological child having the condition. They can use this information to inform their family planning in terms of the decision to have a biologic child, to decide on prenatal testing of a fetus if available, or to decide to reduce the risk of having a child with the condition through such options as egg/sperm donation, sex selection, preimplantation testing or adoption.

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Resources:

Mayo Clinic
Epilepsy Risk Factors