Epilepsy Talk

Is Epilepsy Inherited? | August 23, 2017

Just because you have a parent, sibling, cousin or aunt who has epilepsy doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have it also.

In fact, if you have a close relative with epilepsy, the chance of you having epilepsy is only about 2-5%, depending on the specific type of epilepsy.

The risk in the general population is about 1-2%.

On the other hand, there is a 92-98% chance for the close relative of someone with epilepsy to NOT have the same condition!

So, even though the risk in families with epilepsy is higher than in the general population, most people with epilepsy do not have any relatives with seizures, and the great majority of parents with epilepsy do not have children with epilepsy.

Not everyone who carries genes making them more likely to develop epilepsy will do so. Even if the genes are passed on, not every generation in a family will have seizures. And so, like diabetes, epilepsy may skip a generation.

While epilepsy cannot currently be cured, for some people it does eventually go away. One study found that children with idiopathic epilepsy, or epilepsy with an unknown cause, had a 68 to 92% chance of becoming seizure-free by 20 years after their diagnosis.

The odds of becoming seizure-free are not as good for adults, or for children with severe epilepsy syndromes. But it is possible that seizures may decrease or even stop over time. This is more likely if the epilepsy has been well-controlled by medication or if the person has had epilepsy surgery.

The Genetics of Epilepsy

Clinical tests suggest that genetic abnormalities may be some of the most important factors contributing to epilepsy. Some types of epilepsy have been traced to an abnormality in a specific gene.

Researchers estimate that more than 500 genes could play a role in this disorder.

More than 20 different syndromes with epilepsy as a main feature have been mapped to specific genes.

However, it is increasingly clear that, for many forms of epilepsy, genetic abnormalities play only a partial role, perhaps by increasing a person’s susceptibility to seizures that are triggered by an environmental or external factor.

Like photosensitivity. (Did you know that 25% of people with primary generalized epilepsy are photosensitive?)

While abnormal genes sometimes cause epilepsy, they also may influence the disorder in more subtle ways…

Genetic Testing

For example, one study showed that many people with epilepsy have an abnormally active version of a gene that increases resistance to drugs. This may help explain why anticonvulsant drugs do not work for some people.

Genes also may control other aspects of the body’s response to medications and each person’s susceptibility to seizures, or seizure threshold.

Abnormalities in the genes that control neuronal migration – a critical step in brain development – can lead to areas of misplaced or abnormally formed neurons in the brain that can cause epilepsy.

And in some cases, genes may contribute to development of epilepsy even in people with no family history of the disorder.

These people may have a newly developed abnormality, or mutation, in an epilepsy-related gene.


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  1. Think the majority of us come to it by way of accidents or surgery or growth in the brain? Just wondering.


    Comment by Ellen LaFrancis — August 23, 2017 @ 7:06 PM

    • I think a number of people get it for unknown reasons.

      Others may get it by accidents (head injury, like I got mine).

      And still others do have a tumor, lesion or unusual brain activity.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2017 @ 7:56 PM

  2. 4 out of the 6 people in my immediate family have a seizure diagnosis but doctors don’t know why for any of us. Wish there was a cure…


    Comment by New to Seizures — August 23, 2017 @ 8:36 PM

  3. I come to epilepsy by way of a very large brain tumor, followed by surgical resection….. and nearly a year later BAM! I woke up on the floor of my living room staring up at a bunch of EMS/Firefighters….. That was fourteen years ago. The neurologist explains that this is an injury – an artifact from the craniotomy. Oh well….what doesn’t kill you….


    Comment by Ellen LaFrancis — August 23, 2017 @ 8:50 PM

    • Well, the surgery didn’t kill you, so, you’ll get through the seizures.

      I have a feeling you’re a tough, resilient lady. 🙂


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 23, 2017 @ 8:54 PM

      • LOL…..and Lord love my dear husband! He has surely taken to heart the part of the wedding vows…..’in sickness and in health’. We still manage to find (sick) humor in all of the various health challenges. Gotta laugh….it helps keep you strong.


        Comment by Ellen LaFrancis — August 23, 2017 @ 9:43 PM

      • Your husband must be some kind of man. Because you’re some kind of woman!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 24, 2017 @ 8:16 AM

  4. My biological mother was epileptic and my biological fathers niece also was epileptic. I was diagnosed with clonictonic epilepsy when I was 10


    Comment by Dena Drew — August 24, 2017 @ 8:36 PM

  5. I had a malformation, but don’t know why my grandfather on my mom’s side had seizures, at least I think I heard he had them at one point. Not even sure if it was the malformation itself that started my Epilepsy, as my mother recently told me at 8 months old I had my vaccines, so was it the malformation or the vaccines or combination? May never know.


    Comment by trekkie80sgirl — August 25, 2017 @ 12:21 AM

    • Trekkie,

      Vaccines are often treated as the devil.

      But here’s an article with a different point of view:

      Epilepsy Without Vaccinations — The Risks


      As for the malformation:

      Cerebral arteriovenous malformation

      A cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) is an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain that usually forms before birth.

      The cause of cerebral AVM is unknown.

      An AVM occurs when arteries in the brain connect directly to nearby veins without having the normal small vessels (capillaries) between them.

      AVMs vary in size and location in the brain.

      It may cause disruption of neuronal circuitry and predispose to a variety of clinical consequences, the most common of which is epileptic seizures.

      Cerebral AVMs are rare.

      Although the condition is present at birth, symptoms may occur at any age.


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 25, 2017 @ 8:24 AM

      • I actually had kidney cells in my brain, it had nothing to do with arteries and veins, it was misplaced cells. I also had a kidney disorder when I was younger(3 years old up until my 6th grade year when it was put into remission by some doctors up at Mayo Clinic). Like I said whether this was aggravated by the vaccine or not is a mystery. There was only a biopsy of my right frontal lobe done after my surgery in 2009, when I was 28, so that’s all I know about aside from what I was told by my mother.


        Comment by trekkie80sgirl — August 30, 2017 @ 2:29 PM

      • Trekkie, A vaccine is a possibility, but when? A vaccine your mom had before your birth? Would that have caused the misplaced kidney cells as a genetic condition?

        Or a vaccine that you had when you were young. That might have caused your right frontal lobe damage.

        I really don’t know. I’m stumped. 😦


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 30, 2017 @ 2:57 PM

      • Also Health and Human Services site has more information than CDC is willing to give.



        Comment by trekkie80sgirl — August 30, 2017 @ 2:38 PM

      • Thanks for the tip, Trekkie!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 30, 2017 @ 2:58 PM

  6. It was a great read some good points, but I have to agree with Advocate Phyllis Fender Johnson, who knows what she is talking about most of the time, myself I have had Grand Mal Epilepsy 26, Years due to an accident at work where the scaffolding I was working on collapsed and I fell 35, foot and landed on my head, also damaging my back, neck, legs I had blood coming out of my head I thought it was water at first, the stars were nice to look at though!


    Comment by JasonHughes — August 25, 2017 @ 7:58 AM

    • My epilepsy was caused by a brain injury, too,

      I was speed skating and someone put their foot out, catapulting me into the rink wall.

      I have no idea how long I was out but I awoke in the arms of a very handsome skating coach!


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 25, 2017 @ 8:16 AM

  7. Phylis love reading people’s comments. It humbles me. I was at a school Reunion and my friend who started having seiInure in her 50’s. She was told it was hereditary. Her older sister doesn’t have it Her parents didn’t have it. She is at a subtle loss for words . Her daughter will not have children and assists in the business. It happens differently to all of us. She is a fantastic person!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by red2robi — September 28, 2017 @ 10:58 AM

    • NOT FAIR.

      But, if her daughter wants to have children, she would do herself a favor by getting some genetic counseling.


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 28, 2017 @ 4:54 PM

  8. Epilepsy suffer doctors, sportsperson, great scholars it is a wrong perception that marriage is a burden. Long life of 85 years People psychological syndrome epilepsy proper care during the early stages chances of epilepsy occurrence stop.Nothing wrong with diseases awareness about the diseases is causing public to misunderstand about it. Symptoms good knowledge..


    Comment by Yusuf — February 10, 2018 @ 11:32 PM

  9. I have tonic clonic seizures and absence seizures for 40 years now. My mother and her brother both suffered from epilepsy. Only 2 children out of 13 in my mother’s
    family had epilepsy. My brother drown from having a seizure in the water. He was only 11. My mother had 4 children, 2 had epilepsy. I do have some cousins that have seizure problems too. My mom lived to be 95 and my uncle 81.


    Comment by Mag Miller — June 6, 2018 @ 3:04 PM

    • It’s such a crap shoot. Who gets the epilepsy genes and who doesn’t.

      I’m so sorry about your brother drowning at such a tender age. It must have been terribly difficult on your family.

      Yet your mother lived until 95 with epilepsy and your uncle until 81. Now that’s something to celebrate!


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 6, 2018 @ 3:38 PM

  10. Phylis Feiner Johnson, it seems to me that the only real way one can inherit Epilepsy is if both parents who have Epilepsy pas that through their genes. However, I am skeptical of the claim that because one or both parents have Epilepsy that any children could have it. What are your thoughts?


    Comment by Jeffrey Liakos — August 10, 2018 @ 8:11 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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