World Epilepsy Day purple ribbon.

Post-Traumatic Epilepsy, Traumatic Brain Injury and the Connection Between Them

How much do you know about epilepsy and its impact on the Veteran community?

Epilepsy is a broad term used for a brain disorder that causes seizures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), epilepsy affects about 3 million adults in the United States, making it possible you know someone impacted by it.

There are many different types of epilepsy, but a specific type called post-traumatic epilepsy affects Veterans at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Learn more about this condition, what causes it, and what resources are available to help.

What Is Post-Traumatic Epilepsy?

According to the CDC, post-traumatic epilepsy or post-traumatic seizures are complications caused by traumatic brain injury (TBI). When you have recurring or unprovoked seizures after a TBI, it’s considered post-traumatic epilepsy.

If you or someone you know has a TBI, talk to your health care provider about the risk for seizures and post-traumatic epilepsy, and take advantage of the information and resources available to support you.

TBI occurs when a violent blow or jolt to the head or body causes damage to the brain, including trauma caused by a vehicle crash, a blast, an explosion or a gunshot wound. The likelihood someone will develop post-traumatic epilepsy after a TBI is higher based on the severity of the trauma. For example, penetrating head injuries causing bleeding within the brain or leading to a coma lasting more than 24 hours pose a greater risk for post-traumatic epilepsy.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Epilepsy?

Epilepsy can affect people very differently. During a seizure, there’s an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain, which can cause the body and mind to react in various ways. Symptoms can include:

  • Staring and unresponsiveness
  • Stiffening or shaking of the body, legs, arms, or head
  • Inability to speak or comprehend
  • Muscle spasms
  • Mental confusion
  • Uncontrolled or aimless body movements
  • Loss of consciousness

Seizures can last a finite period of seconds to minutes and then stop on their own.

How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?

A doctor talking to her patient with electrodes on head during treatment.Epilepsy is diagnosed by meeting with a neurologist and undergoing a series of basic tests. These tests often include:

  • Electroencephalography (EEG) — a noninvasive test to detect abnormalities in the electrical activity of the brain
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — a noninvasive procedure using powerful magnets to construct pictures of the body and in this case, the brain

Other scans such as Positron Emission Tomography scans and Video EEG Telemetry can be used as well. To learn more about these tests, check out the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) page on Epilepsy Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and More.

After a diagnosis, epilepsy is often treated with anti-seizure medications. Various medications are used for epilepsy and are considered very effective for the majority of patients.

If medications don’t work, the next step is evaluation through EEG-video monitoring, which allows a health care team to clarify the diagnosis, localize the seizures and examine different treatment options.

What Care Is Provided by VA?

VA is committed to high-quality health care for Veterans suffering from epilepsy. VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence provide comprehensive epilepsy evaluation and care for Veterans with seizure disorders. The centers partner with VA physicians, nurses, therapists, pharmacists and other health care providers with expertise in improving the health and well-being of Veterans with epilepsy. The centers offer a range of services including:

  • Outpatient epilepsy clinics with a staff of neurology subspecialists
  • Advanced testing methods, including MRI, EEG and video monitoring
  • Inpatient units for examining certain seizure types more closely, changing medications in a monitored setting and performing presurgical evaluations
  • Links to Polytrauma Centers for Veterans with moderate and severe TBI who are at greater risk for post-traumatic epilepsy

To see the location of the centers, check out Epilepsy Centers of Excellence Near You.

Additional Resources


If you or someone you know has a TBI, talk to your health care provider about the risk for seizures and post-traumatic epilepsy, and take advantage of the information and resources available to support you.

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