Heredity (also called “genetics,” or the inherited traits we get from our parents) is one factor that can make epilepsy more likely.

For instance, some people who have a serious head injury (which is a clear cause of seizures) will get epilepsy, while others won’t. Those who do develop epilepsy are more likely to have a family history of seizures. This suggests that a genetic tendency makes these people more likely to develop epilepsy.

When seizures start in or affect the whole brain at the same time, it's called generalized epilepsy. Generalized epilepsy is more likely to involve genetic factors than partial (focal) epilepsy. But researchers have found genetic links to some forms of partial epilepsy as well.

If a child has epilepsy, are their brothers and sisters 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. But most brothers and sisters will not develop epilepsy.

A brother or sister is more likely to develop epilepsy if the child with epilepsy has generalized seizures. 

Remember, epilepsy isn’t contagious. No one can “catch it” like a cold.

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

Most children of people with epilepsy don’t develop seizures or epilepsy. It’s possible that your children may be at a slightly higher risk than normal, but the risk of passing epilepsy on to your children is usually low. 

  • Less than 2 out of 100 people develop epilepsy during their lifetime.
  • If a father has epilepsy, his child’s risk is only slightly higher than usual.
  • If a mother has epilepsy, her child’s risk is still less than 5 in 100.
  • If both parents have epilepsy, their child’s risk is a bit higher than 5 in 100. Most children will not inherit epilepsy from a parent. The chance is higher for some types of epilepsy than for others.

Epilepsy shouldn’t be a reason not to have children. It’s important to know the facts.  

  • If you have a known genetic form of epilepsy, medical testing can help you understand the risks.
  • For many children with epilepsy, treatment can completely control their seizures. And for some children, the epilepsy may go away over time. 

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

Authored By: 
Patty Obsorne Shafer RN, MN
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Authored Date: 
10/2014