Epilepsy Can Follow Traumatic Brain Injury

A doctor wearing white gloves and a mask reviews images of the brain.
Did you know that traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause epilepsy and seizures? Learn the signs and how to protect your health.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens when someone gets a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or a penetrating injury to the head (such as a gunshot).1 TBIs can range from mild (such as concussions) to severe, life-threatening injuries. They can cause changes in:

  • Thinking and remembering.
  • Vision and balance.
  • Emotions, such as anxiety, irritability, or sadness.
  • Sleep.2

TBIs can happen to anyone, but some groups are at greater risk of dying or having long-term health problems after the injury.1 These groups include racial and ethnic minorities, service members and veterans, people experiencing homelessness, people in correctional and detention facilities, survivors of intimate partner violence, and people living in rural areas.1

TBIs can also cause epilepsy and seizures

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. TBIs can cause a seizure right after the injury happens or even months or years later. Researchers agree that the more severe the TBI, the greater the chance the person may develop epilepsy.3 Age and other medical conditions may also play a role in whether or not a person may develop epilepsy after a TBI.

The terms post-traumatic epilepsy (PTE) and post-traumatic seizures (PTS) are both used to describe seizures that happen because of a TBI.4 In 2018, there were about 223,050 hospitalizations for TBI in the United States.5 A CDC-funded study found that among people aged 15 years and older hospitalized for TBI, about 1 out of 10 developed epilepsy in the following 3 years.3

Everyone can:

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of TBI and when to seek medical care.
  • Take the CDC’s HEADS UP training to learn how to recognize, respond to, and minimize the risk of concussion or TBI – especially if you’re a parent, coach, child care provider, or school professional.

If you or someone you care for has a head injury, here’s what you need to know:

  • Seek medical attention and share information about TBI signs and symptoms.
  • Talk to the doctor about the risk for having seizures or developing epilepsy after a TBI.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of a seizure. Sometimes it can be hard to tell. Some seizures cause a person to fall, cry out, shake or jerk, and become unaware of what’s going on around them. Other seizures can make a person appear confused, make it hard for them to answer questions, twitch, or cause the person to feel like they taste, see, or smell something unusual.
  • Learn first aid so you are prepared if someone has a seizure.

To prevent TBIs that may cause epilepsy, protect your brain from injury. For example:

An older woman is sitting on the ground, holding her head, and looking distressed.

Always wear a helmet when riding a bike to prevent head injuries!

A boy and his dad smile while wearing helmets and sitting on their bikes.

If you or someone you care for has had a head injury, talk to a doctor about the risk of seizures and epilepsy.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Get the Facts About TBI website. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Mild TBI and Concussion website. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/concussion/symptoms.html
  3. Ferguson PL, Smith GM, Wannamaker BB, Thurman DJ, Pickelsimer EE, Selassie AW. A population-based study of risk of epilepsy after hospitalization for traumatic brain injury. Epilepsia. 2010;51(5):891–898. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2009.02384.x
  4. Frey LC. Epidemiology of posttraumatic epilepsy: a critical review. Epilepsia. 2003;44(10):11–17. doi:10.1046/j.1528-1157.44.s10.4.x
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. TBI Data website. Accessed January 31, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/data/index.html
Page last reviewed: March 21, 2022, 12:00 AM