Causes of Pediatric Seizure Disorders

A pediatric seizure disorder may be inherited, may be the result of a brain malformation, or may develop after an accident or injury. It may also be caused by an infection, a tumor, or a cardiovascular disorder such as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).

If the seizure disorder is associated with a tumor in the brain or an abnormal blood vessel, it can be cured in as many as 95 percent of patients. Seizures caused by developmental abnormalities in the brain, often found in children, can be cured in 40 to 60 percent of patients, depending on the ability to precisely locate the abnormal areas in the brain (See Diagnosing and Treating Epilepsy in Children to learn more).

Here are some commonly known causes of pediatric seizure disorder that, in some cases, can be successfully treated with surgery and/or medication. Brain surgery to remove or disconnect the affected portion of the brain that is generating the seizure focus may be considered if a child’s seizures can’t be controlled by medication, always start in one area of the brain, and occur in a part of the brain that can be removed without disrupting important behaviors. (See Surgery for Pediatric Seizure Disorders to learn more)

Mesial temporal sclerosis is scarring of the inner portions of the brain’s temporal lobe that can sometimes be caused by brain injury or infection. This can lead to partial (focal) seizures that start in the temporal lobe but can spread to other areas of the brain. It is often associated with intractable epilepsy (seizures that don’t respond to medication) but surgery to remove the scarred areas of the temporal lobe may be curative.

Tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) is a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in different organs, including the brain. The growth of tumors can block the flow of fluids in the brain, leading to seizures, as well as behavior changes and cognitive impairment. TSC can be treated with drugs that shrink the tumors, or in some cases, with surgery to remove them.

Sturge-Weber Syndrome is a rare congenital (present at birth) condition characterized by a birthmark (called a port wine stain) on one side of the face and neck, as well as neurological abnormalities. It is caused by abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the brain that can cause seizures that may become generalized and evolve into other types of seizures over time. Surgery called a hemispherotomy, which involves disconnecting the abnormal side of the brain from the normal side, can be used to treat it.

Rasmussen encephalitis is a rare childhood disorder where cells in one part of one hemisphere of the brain become inflamed and swollen, triggering progressive seizures that lead to weakness, loss of function, and cognitive deficits. The cause of the inflammation is not often known, but could be the result of a viral infection, and auto-immune disorder, or trauma. Successful seizure control requires a hemispherotomy to disconnect the affect side of the brain from the normal side.

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is a rare form of epilepsy in children that typically starts between the ages of 3 and 5 years. It can result in many different kinds of seizures (both convulsive and non-convulsive) that vary widely from child to child and can happen multiple times a day. Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is difficult to treat, but palliative surgery (in which the corpus callosum – a band of tissue that connects the hemispheres of the brain and a pathway along which seizures can spread – is cut, helping to reduce the number and severity of seizures) may be recommended.

Cortical dysplasia is a malformation that occurs during embryogenesis when normal brain cells migrate to incorrect locations. It is one of the most common forms of epilepsy in children. The presence of these abnormal rests of cells irritates the surrounding brain and triggers seizures. Surgical treatment involves resection of the focus of dysplasia, or abnormally located cells. These dysplasias can be small and focused, or can involve an entire lobe.

Perinatal stroke mayresult in permanent injury to the brain. Studies show that four of five newborn infants who experience a stroke around the time of birth will develop neurologic disorders such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or language delay. Most often, when seizures result from a perinatal injury, treatment involves disconnection or resection of the affected area of brain to control the seizures.

Our Care Team

  • Victor and Tara Menezes Clinical Scholar in Neuroscience
  • Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery in Pediatrics
Phone: 212-746-2363
  • Associate Professor of Neuropsychology in Neurological Surgery
  • Director of Neuropsychology Services
Phone: 212-746-3356
  • Vice Chair for Clinical Research
  • David and Ursel Barnes Professor in Minimally Invasive Surgery
  • Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
  • Director, Center for Epilepsy and Pituitary Surgery
  • Co-Director, Surgical Neuro-oncology
Phone: 212-746-5620

Reviewed by: Caitlin Hoffman, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated:  December 2020

Weill Cornell Medicine Brain & Spine Center 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787