Epilepsy Triggers Causes Genetic

The answer to the question, “Is epilepsy genetic?” is not a simple one. Some types of epilepsy tend to run in families, which leads researchers to believe that epilepsy is (at least partially) an inherited disorder. Just how it is inherited, however, remains something of a mystery.

Epilepsy isn’t simply inherited the way that eye or hair color is. Instead, it’s passed on by complex inheritance, meaning that there are probably several different genes involved in the inheritance of an epilepsy syndrome. Scientists have identified some of these genes, but according to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, there could be up to 500 genes linked to the inheritance of epilepsy seizures.

Genetic Seizures and Seizure Threshold

Having a family history of epilepsy doesn’t necessarily mean an individual will develop the disorder, but it will likely make him more susceptible to seizures. If an individual with a family history of seizures suffers a severe head injury, for example, he is more likely to develop seizures than someone with a similar injury who doesn’t have a family history of epilepsy seizures.

Every individual has a seizure threshold — the point at which the electrochemical activity in the brain “tips out of balance” and causes a seizure. This threshold is genetically predetermined. Those with a family history of epilepsy are more likely to have a lower seizure threshold and a greater susceptibility to seizures.

Will My Child Inherit My Epilepsy?

Children of parents with generalized seizures (seizures that affect the entire brain at once) are more likely to inherit epilepsy than children of parents with partial (focal) seizures.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America®, for the average person, the risk of developing epilepsy is 1 to 2 percent. The risk to children of parents with epilepsy is 4 to 8 percent. Studies have shown that generalized absence seizures appear to be the most inheritable of all types of seizures.

Additionally, the risk of developing epilepsy seizures is twice as high in children of women with epilepsy as in children of men with epilepsy.

Genetic Counseling

It is important to remember that, even if you do have epilepsy, the risk of having children with epilepsy is very low. In fact, most people with the disorder do not have children with epilepsy. If you’re concerned about the risk of passing on epilepsy to your children, your physician may be able to refer you to a genetic counseling professional who can help you better determine that risk.


Dekker, P.A. (2002). Epilepsy: A manual for medical and clinical officers in Africa. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/639.pdf

Epilepsy.com Staff. (n.d.). Is epilepsy inherited? Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.epilepsy.com/101/ep101_inherited

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research Staff. (2009). Epilepsy: Causes. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/epilepsy/DS00342/DSECTION=causes

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Staff. (n.d.) Seizures and epilepsy: Hope through research. Retrieved March 11, 2010, from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/epilepsy/epilepsy.htm

The Epilepsy Foundation of America®Staff. (n.d.) Genetics and epilepsy. Retrieved March 13, 2010, from http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/about/types/causes/genetics.cfm