Strokes May Lead to Epilepsy

Learn how preventing stroke can also prevent some kinds of epilepsy.

What is a Stroke?

Older woman looking out of a window with a somber look.

A stroke happens when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.1 About 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year.1 It is a major cause of disability and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.1 Signs that someone is having a stroke are:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or problems understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.1

Strokes Can Cause Seizures and Epilepsy2

Preventing Stroke

Lower your chance of having a stroke by:

  • Controlling high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol
  • Having a healthy weight
  • Being physically active
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Avoiding smoking4

Epilepsy is a broad term used for a brain disorder that causes repeated seizures. There are many types of epilepsy, and there are also many different kinds of seizures.

A single seizure may happen soon after a stroke.2 You do not necessarily have epilepsy, or will develop epilepsy, if you have just one seizure. Certain types of strokes, such as ones that cause bleeding, and more severe strokes may be more likely to cause epilepsy.2

Physical Activity
Older woman wearing exercise clothes, walking her dog.

Physical activity is one way to lower the chance of having a stroke.

One study found that among those who had strokes, 5% had one seizure and 7% developed epilepsy in the thirty months afterwards.2
Epilepsy caused by strokes can usually be controlled with anti-seizure medicines.2 It’s important to take medicine as prescribed to keep seizures under control.

Older Adults Are More at Risk

Epilepsy is more likely to develop in older adults than younger adults.3 Stroke causes up to half of new epilepsy cases in older adults for which a cause can be identified.3 This makes stroke one of the most common reasons people develop epilepsy as they age.3

Seizures may be hard to recognize in older adults and may be overlooked. For instance, trouble with memory, confusion, falls, dizziness, or numbness may be viewed as “normal” aging problems. However, these can actually be symptoms of seizures and are not normal.3 Older adults who have had a stroke, and their caregivers, should watch for these symptoms.

To learn more about recognizing seizures in older adults, take the Epilepsy Foundation’s Seniors and Seizures trainingexternal icon.

Do you know what to do if someone has a seizure? Learn seizure first aid.

Prevent epilepsy by preventing stroke!


More Information

CDC Epilepsy Program

CDC Stroke Program

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke Fact Sheet. Accessed May 9, 2019.
  2. Conrad J, Pawlowski M, Dogan M, et al. Seizures after cerebrovascular events: Risk factors and clinical features. Seizure. 2013;22(4):275-82. DOI:10.1016/j.seizure.2013.01.014. htmlexternal icon.
  3. Brodie MJ, Elder AT, Kwan P. Epilepsy in later life. Lancet Neurol. 2009; 8(11):1019–30. DOI: 10.1016/S1474-4422(09)70240-6. htmlexternal icon.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Stroke: What You Can Do. Accessed May 9, 2019.
Page last reviewed: July 9, 2019, 12:00 AM