Epilepsy Triggers Causes Behavior

Because epilepsy is a disorder of the brain, it can affect the functions of the brain that regulate behavior, mood and personality. Interestingly, doctors will often conduct behavioral tests on epilepsy patients to determine which kind of epilepsy syndrome they have and how it is affecting them.

Epilepsy, Behavior and Emotions

Individuals who suffer from epilepsy are at high risk for experiencing low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. These problems are partially due to the biology of the disorder itself, but they can also be a result of the alienation and lack of support many people face as a result of their epilepsy. Behavior and emotions can also be affected by the constant fear of having another seizure. Anti-epileptic medication, too, may have behavior-altering side effects.

The prevalence of mood disorders among individuals with epilepsy is largely unknown. The Epilepsy Foundation of America®estimates anywhere from 11 to 60 percent of individuals with epilepsy also suffer from a mood disorder, such as:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive behavior
  • Psychosis (losing touch with reality).

The two most common mood disorders associated with epilepsy are depression and anxiety.

Epilepsy and Depression

Many people with epilepsy experience episodes of depression. These are called “dysphoric” (the opposite of euphoric) episodes. These can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and are characterized by depressive moods, listlessness, irritability, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Some individuals experience a disorder known as major depression, which is a consistent, unrelenting dysphoric episode that lasts for two weeks or longer. Other signs may also be present, such as significant weight changes. However, scientists are not exactly sure how epilepsy affects depression.

Epilepsy and Anxiety

As with depression, anxiety is more prevalent among epilepsy patients than the general population. Anxiety appears to be related to epilepsy in two ways:

  • Scientists believe that anxiety disorders are associated with the amygdala, which plays an important role in emotion Seizures that originate in the temporal lobe of the brain often affect the amygdala.
  • Because seizures can be highly unpredictable, many people experience anxiety about when and where they will experience their next seizure.

Epilepsy in Children

Seizures in children are frightening and disconcerting for both the parent and child. Children who experience seizures may be scared or confused during or after seizures. Fatigue, confusion and agitation are also common after a seizure.

More so than adults, epilepsy in children often gives rise to behavioral problems. Children are often frustrated about their disorder, and may be teased by or alienated from their peers at school. The affect of the seizure on the brain may also cause behavioral problems. Anti-epileptic drugs may also produce behavioral problems as a side effect. Common behavioral problems include:

  • Aggression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration.

According to United Cerebral Palsy, an advocacy organization for individuals with disabilities, parents can help to lessen such behaviors by paying attention to their child’s needs, encouraging independence, staying positive and by not rewarding negative behavior with undue attention. Talk to your doctor for resources on managing social issues involving epilepsy.


Dekker, P.A. (2002). Epilepsy: A manual for medical and clinical officers in Africa. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/639.pdf

Epilepsy.com Staff. (n.d.). Moods and behavior. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.epilepsy.com/epilepsy/behavior_moods

Filloux, F. (2010). Living with epilepsy. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/brain/epilepsy.html#

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Staff. (n.d.) Seizures and epilepsy: Hope through research. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm

The Epilepsy Foundation of America®Staff. (n.d.) Mood disorders and epilepsy. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/about/related/mood/

United Cerebral Palsy Staff. (2009). How does epilepsy affect daily life?. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.mychildwithoutlimits.org/?page=life-with-epilepsy