Is Epilepsy Hereditary?


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects the brain. Electrical impulses in the brain misfire or fail to follow the appropriate pathway causing partial or complex seizures. These seizures may include periods or staring, unusual sensations or feelings, or convulsions. The part of the brain affected determines the severity of the seizure.


Epilepsy is categorized as either Idiopathic epilepsy or Symptomatic epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy may be hereditary. The same type of epilepsy occurs more frequently in family members. Irregularities detected in the EEG of the patient tend to be similar to those of other family members whether or not the family member has epilepsy. In some instances chromosomal abnormalities are the cause of epilepsy and can be inherited. Symptomatic pilepsy is the result of brain injury or damage. This includes damage sustained from a head injury, abnormal development during the first trimester of pregnancy, brain tumors or Encephalitis.


Although there is some evidence that those who develop epilepsy as a result of injury to the brain have a higher rate of epilepsy in the family than those who do not develop seizures as a result of injury; it is not known why this occurs or if there is a genetic component. Epilepsy occurs at a rate of 2% in the general population. If the father has epilepsy the chances of children having epilepsy is raised slightly. If the mother has epilepsy, the rate is increased to 5%. The risk increases slightly above the 5% if both parents have epilepsy.

Time Frame

The prognosis for a seizure-free life is better for those who are diagnosed later in life. Those diagnosed as children tend to fair worse and suffer more complications.


In adults, the use of seizure medication produces a seizure-free lifestyle for 50 to 60%. Of the remaining patients, 10 to 20% are able to control seizure activity with the addition of a second medication. Only 20 to 30% will continue to experiences seizures and require further treatment. For children, 20% will experience an end to seizures with the first medication. When the medication is stopped the child will continue to be seizure free. Between 50 to 60% of children will remain seizure free while on medication and may be able to stop medication in the future. Another 30% will need medication for life. Only 10% of children diagnosed with epilepsy will require treatment beyond oral medication.


Couples who have epilepsy, particularly if both partners have it, should consider both the type of epilepsy and severity of their condition prior to making a decision to have children. For most it should not be a major concern; but medical advice from your personal doctor is advised.

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