Causes of Seizures

Simple Causes: There are some simple conditions that can cause seizures or seizure-like movements:

Brain Causes of Generalized Seizures: Although epilepsy is well-known for causing generalized (tonic-clonic) seizures, there are a variety of causes of fits and full seizures. Many of these causes are very serious:

Other Major Causes of Seizures: Problems in other organs of the body can result in effects on the brain that are severe enough to cause seizures:

Substance-Related Causes: Various drugs, medications and substances can affect the brain, causing generalized seizures:

Absence Seizures: Mental seizures where a child may “stare into space” or become non-responsive, are called absence seizures. They are often mistaken for inattention, such as inattentive-type ADHD. Causes may include:

  • Epilepsy (certain types)
  • Absence status

Other Notable Syndromes: There are a few disorders that don’t really cause “seizures” as such, but can cause some effects or motor disorders that are similar or related.

Similar Symptoms: See also the causes of symptoms similar to seizures, such as:

   •   •   •

Back to: « Seizures

   •   •   •

When are seizures not epilepsy?

While any seizure is cause for concern, having a seizure does not by itself mean a person has epilepsy. First seizures, febrile seizures, nonepileptic events, and eclampsia (a life-threatening condition that can occur in pregnant women) are examples of conditions involving seizures that may not be associated with epilepsy. Regardless of the type of seizure, it’s important to inform your doctor when one occurs.

Source: NINDS (NIH)1

   •   •   •

Other nonepileptic events may be caused by narcolepsy (sudden attacks of sleep), Tourette syndrome (repetitive involuntary movements called tics), cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and other medical conditions with symptoms that resemble seizures. Because symptoms of these disorders can look very much like epileptic seizures, they are often mistaken for epilepsy.

Source: NINDS (NIH)2

   •   •   •

Older Adults

Epidemiological studies demonstrate that the elderly are at a substantially higher risk for the development of the epilepsies. In addition to stroke (hemorrhagic and ischemic), seizures in the elderly may be associated with brain tumors, TBI, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Source: NINDS (NIH)3

   •   •   •

Non-Epileptic Seizures: An estimated 5 to 20 percent of people diagnosed with epilepsy actually have non-epileptic seizures (NES), which outwardly resemble epileptic seizures, but are not associated with seizure-like electrical discharge in the brain.

Source: NINDS (NIH)4

   •   •   •

CDKL5 Disorder: CDKL5 is a loss of function disorder that causes early-onset, refractory epilepsy.


   •   •   •

Angelman syndrome: By around two years of age … Children with Angelman syndrome may also start to have seizures (fits) around this age.

Source: NHS Choices UK6

   •   •   •

Reflex anoxic seizures: Reflex anoxic seizures are involuntary, aren't dangerous and don't cause brain damage or death. They're not a sign of a difficult child or poor parenting. They're not epileptic seizures.

Source: NHS Choices UK7

   •   •   •

Anemia: Iron deficiency anaemia

In some cases, blue breath-holding spells and reflex anoxic seizures may be linked to iron deficiency anaemia.

This is where a lack of iron in the body leads to a reduction in the number of red blood cells, causing symptoms such as tiredness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and a pale complexion.

Source: NHS Choices UK8

   •   •   •

Reflex anoxic seizures (RAS): The child will often open their mouth as if they're going to cry, but make no sound before turning pale grey and losing consciousness.

They'll either become limp - or, more often, stiff - with their eyes rolling upwards and their fingers clawed. Their body may also jerk a few times.

The seizure usually lasts less than a minute. Afterwards, the child will regain consciousness, but may appear sleepy and confused for a few hours.

Source: NHS Choices UK9

   •   •   •

Long QT syndrome: Those who do have symptoms usually experience:

  • seizures, which sometimes happen instead of a blackout when the brain is starved of oxygen

Source: NHS Choices UK10

   •   •   •

Neurofibromatosis type 1: Around 7% of children with NF1 develop epilepsy, where a person has repeated seizures or fits. This tends to be a mild form of epilepsy that's controlled easily with medication.

Source: NHS Choices UK11

   •   •   •

Infantile spasms: Some young children experience a more serious condition, known as infantile spasms, where they have lots of seizures over a short space of time, and brain activity is abnormal all the time. These usually develop during the first year of life.

Source: NHS Choices UK12

   •   •   •

Some causes may include:13 Causes of Seizures:

Causes List for Seizures

List of possible causes of Seizures or similar symptoms may include:14

... Full Causes List for Seizures »

   •   •   •


  1. Source: NINDS (NIH): disorders/ epilepsy/ detail_epilepsy.htm
  2. ibid.
  3. Source: NINDS (NIH): disorders/ epilepsy/ epilepsy_research.htm
  4. Source: NINDS (NIH): disorders/ epilepsy/ detail_epilepsy.htm
  5. Source: RDCRN (NCATS/NIH): cms/ rett/ Learn-More/ Disorder-Definitions
  6. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ angelman-syndrome/ 
  7. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ Breath-holding-spells-in-children/ 
  8. ibid.
  9. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ fainting/ causes/ 
  10. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ long-qt-syndrome/ 
  11. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ neurofibromatosis-type-1/ symptoms/ 
  12. Source: NHS Choices UK: conditions/ tuberous-sclerosis/ symptoms/ 
  13. Source: Human Phenotype Ontology
  14. Source: Algorithmically Generated List

   •   •   •

Note: This site is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. See your doctor or other qualified medical professional for all your medical needs.