Multi-generational Family

Heredity (genetics or the physical traits we get from our parents) plays an important role in many cases of epilepsy.

  • For instance, not everyone who has a serious head injury (a clear cause of seizures) will get epilepsy. Those who do develop epilepsy may be more likely to have a history of seizures in their family. This family history suggests that it is easier for them to develop epilepsy than for people with no genetic tendency.
  • When seizures begin from both sides of the brain at the same time it's called generalized epilepsy. Generalized epilepsy is more likely to involve genetic factors than partial or focal epilepsy. 
  • In recent years, genetic links to some forms of partial epilepsy have been found.

Are the brothers and sisters of children with epilepsy more likely to develop it?

  • Their risk is slightly higher than usual, because there may be a genetic tendency in the family for seizures and epilepsy.
  • Even so, most brothers and sisters will not develop epilepsy. Epilepsy is more likely to occur in a brother or sister if the child with epilepsy has generalized seizures. 
  • Remember, epilepsy is not “contagious” and people can’t “catch it” like a cold.

If I have epilepsy, will my children also have it?

Most children of people with epilepsy do not develop seizures or epilepsy. However, since genes are passed down through families, it is possible. Here are a few general points to remember.

  • Less than 2 people out of every 100 develop epilepsy at some point during their lifetime.
  • The risk for children whose father has epilepsy is only slightly higher.
  • If the mother has epilepsy and the father does not, the risk is still less than 5 in 100.
  • If both parents have epilepsy, the risk is a bit higher. Most children will not inherit epilepsy from a parent, but the chance of inheriting some types of epilepsy is higher.

Learning the facts and understanding the risks of passing it along to your children can help.

If you have epilepsy, you may be afraid that your children will have epilepsy, too. However, it’s important to know the facts.The risk of passing epilepsy on to your children is usually low. Epilepsy shouldn’t be a reason not to have children. Medical testing may help people who have a known genetic form of epilepsy understand their risks.

If a child does develop epilepsy, remember that many children can get complete control of seizures. For some, the epilepsy may go away. 

Most importantly, having seizures and epilepsy doesn’t mean you or your child are any different or less important than anyone else!

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD
Reviewed by: Joseph I. Sirven, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN on 7/2013
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