Causes of temporal lobe epilepsy

Updated April 17, 2017

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) affects 50 per cent of those who are diagnosed with epilepsy. While there are many tests, such as an EEG or MRI, that can diagnose the condition, these tests cannot offer a clear explanation for its cause. The aetiologies have been narrowed down and categorised, yet the epileptics who live with the effects of TLE may never know why it happened to them.


Doctors know where TLE begins, they know how it affects the brain as a whole, and they can even treat the symptoms. The only thing the doctors cannot do is tell their patients why the seizures from TLE occur. Although there are nearly 24 medications available for treating the seizures that the patient experiences, it is often a process of trial and error, as not all medications work for every individual. If the causes of TLE were definitive, the job of the doctor and the life of the patient would be much easier.


TLE is a neurological disorder that can begin in either one, or both, of the temporal lobes. It can cause partial seizures or can lead to a complex seizure which involves the entire body. This occurs because of the many interconnections in the brain which in some instances, can cause the seizure activity to spread throughout the entire brain. Just as no two people are alike, neither are their disorders, symptoms or causes.


There are two main types of TLE, both with different causes. First there is mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE), which begins in the hippocampus and parahippocampal gyrus. This is the most common form of TLE. The second type is a bit more rare in diagnosis and it is lateral temporal lobe epilepsy (LTLE). This begins in the neocortex which is on the outer layer of the temporal lobe. The causes of MTLE have been linked to damage of the hippocampus, such as brain tumours or blood vessel malformations. LTLE has been linked to hereditary causes, otherwise known as idiopathic epilepsy.


There are many different causes that have been associated with both types of TLE, yet none are concrete when it comes to diagnosis. Neurologists feel that one cause may be febrile convulsions experienced by infants and toddlers. While in most cases febrile seizures are fairly normal when a baby spikes a high fever, if they last for a period of 15 minutes or longer, damage can be done to the hippocampus and places the child at risk for developing TLE in the future. Another cause is any trauma which results in contusions or hemorrhaging. This trauma can be a result of the use of forceps during birth, or can be the end result of head trauma later in life due to a fall or car accident. There are also causes referred to as cryptogenic, meaning that a cause is presumed, but not definitively identified. Complicating the situation is the fact that most cases of TLE are diagnosed by the patient's clinical history, rather than through diagnostic testing.


Living life with epilepsy can cause a whole host of feelings and emotions that the epileptic must deal with every day. These include dear, embarrassment, anxiety about when the next seizure may occur and a feeling of inadequacy due to physical limitations. In addition, not knowing why you are an epileptic only adds to these emotions. While it is wonderful to have support from family and friends, there are times when the epileptic needs the support of those who are experiencing the same feelings for the same reasons. Finding an epilepsy support group may make it easier for an epileptic to deal with his feelings.


Although there is no cure for epilepsy, and even though the cause of this disorder may never be identified, many know what triggers their seizures. First and foremost, it is important to get enough rest, as fatigue is one of the main culprits that lead to the occurence of seizures. Next, try to avoid stressful situations. Anxiety only makes the seizure worse, and what could have been a partial seizure where consciousness is maintained, can become a tonic clonic seizure in which consciousness is lost and the entire body stiffens and shakes uncontrollably. Finally, make sure that you take your medications. Sadly, many who have epilepsy lack the proper insurance needed to obtain their meds. Adding to this problem is the cost of most medications. If you or someone you know finds yourself in the predicament of not being able to afford your seizure medications, there are organisations available who provide them at low or no cost, depending upon your financial situation.

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About the Author

Based in Jamestown, Pa., Hannah Rice Myers has more than 10 years of experience as a freelance writer, specializing in the health industry. Many of her articles have appeared in newspapers, as well as "Curing Epilepsy: Hope Through Research." Rice Myers received her master's degree in nursing from Upstate Medical University in 2001.