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Epilepsy and inheritance

Introduction

If you have epilepsy, it means that you sometimes have seizures. Anybody can develop epilepsy, but some people have a higher risk of developing epilepsy than others.

Epilepsy is a very complex condition and there are many different types. There are also many different reasons why people develop it.

  • Some people are born with epilepsy. It is thought that between two and five in every 100 children born to parents with epilepsy will inherit epilepsy.
  • Some people have epilepsy that is caused by brain damage, which can be caused by a number of things. These include a difficult birth, a brain infection (such as meningitis), a stroke or a serious brain injury. Not everybody who has brain damage develops epilepsy.
  • For around six out of 10 people with epilepsy, there is no obvious reason why they have developed the condition.

Reasons why you might inherit epilepsy

A certain type of epilepsy might run in your family.

Certain types of epilepsy seem to run in families. These could include childhood absence epilepsy, juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, photosensitive epilepsy or febrile seizures. However, it is more common for families to have different types of epilepsy in them.

More information about different types of epilepsy is available from Epilepsy Action.

You might inherit a low seizure threshold.

We all have something called a seizure threshold in our brain. People with a low seizure threshold are more likely to have seizures than people with a high seizure threshold. Low seizure thresholds may be inherited.

If you have epilepsy and your doctors have not found a cause for it, you may have inherited a low seizure threshold.

If you have brain damage, you have a higher risk of developing epilepsy if there is a history of epilepsy in your family. This is because you may have inherited a low seizure threshold.

You might inherit another medical condition that causes epilepsy

Two to three in every 100 people with epilepsy have epilepsy because they have inherited a different medical condition that also causes epilepsy. For example, tuberous sclerosis is a rare condition that is inherited. It causes benign (non-cancerous) tumours to develop in different parts of the body. It can cause other health conditions, including epilepsy, learning disabilities and autism.

More information about tuberous sclerosis is available from the Tuberous Sclerosis Association.

Tel: 01332 290 734
Website: tuberous-sclerosis.org

The risks of inheriting epilepsy

Each type of epilepsy has a different level of risk for being inherited. However, even with the types of epilepsy that are most likely to be inherited, the risk that a child will inherit it is thought to be less than 15 in every 100.

Here is some information about the risks of a child developing epilepsy, when other family members have epilepsy.

Person in the family with epilepsy

Mother

Father

Mother and father

Other family members

Risk of child developing epilepsy

Higher than for any child in the general population.

Only slightly higher than for any child in the general population.

Higher than if just the mother has epilepsy. But even then it is more likely the child will not develop epilepsy.

The risk of inheriting epilepsy is higher if the parents are related to each other (first cousins or a closer relation).

The more people with epilepsy there are in a family the higher is the risk that the child will inherit epilepsy.

 

Age at which parent developed epilepsy

Under 20

20 - 35

Over 35

Risk of child developing epilepsy

Higher than for any child in the general population.

Slightly higher than for any child in the general population.

No more than for any child in the general population.

Conclusion

Research into epilepsy and inheritance is being carried out all the time. In recent years, scientists have discovered lots of new information, but there is still a lot to learn.

Here is a summary of our understanding of epilepsy and inheritance.

  • The risk that a child will inherit epilepsy depends on: 
    • the type of epilepsy that is in the family
    • which family members have epilepsy
    • how old the family members were when they developed it.
  • Some types of epilepsy have a higher risk of being inherited than other types.
  • Some people don’t inherit epilepsy itself, but they do inherit a low seizure threshold.
  • Between two and five in every 100 children born to parents with epilepsy will inherit epilepsy.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Inheritance and epilepsy.

Pay it forward

This resource is freely available as part of Epilepsy Action’s commitment to improving life for all those affected by epilepsy.

On average it costs £414 to produce an advice and information page – if you have valued using this resource, please text FUTURE to 70500 to donate £3 towards the cost of our future work. Terms and conditions. Thank you


We can provide references and information on the source material we use to write our epilepsy advice and information pages. Please contact our Epilepsy Helpline by email at helpline@epilepsy.org.uk.
Code: 
F019.02

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Dr Rhys Thomas, Clinical Lecturer in Neurology, Morriston Hospital, Swansea, for his contribution to this information.

Dr Rhys Thomas has no conflict of interest to declare.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated May 2012
    To be reviewed May 2015

Comments: read the 16 comments or add yours

Comments

Sounds about right to me. My Mum has epilepsy, hers manifested in her 20s. I had seizures when I was born but this was dismissed as normal. It wasn't until I was 14 that I had my next seizure. I also experience absence seizures.

Submitted by James on

Hi my name is Keiron and I am currently 19 and soon to turn 20 in May, when my mother was in her mid-late 20's she had a seizure and she went to the doctors and it turns out that she has Nocturnal Epilepsy.

About 3 years ago my uncle also then developed epilepsy in his late 20's.

Then a few weeks ago, another one of my uncles has been diagnosed with having epilepsy.

I have also found out that my grandmother had epilepsy aswell, all members are from my mothers side of the family

I'm just writing to ask for bait more information and maybe get an understanding of how likely I am at risk of developing epilepsy as it runs strongly in my family, it does scare me a lot, as it's mostly the unknown factor of my life

Just hope I could get a better understanding, thank you

Submitted by Keiron on

Dear Keiron

I have just sent you an email response. I hope this answers your question.

Cherry

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Cherry on

I have already sent you an Email. But I also want to share my story to help the people who has the same problem like me.
My grandmother from my father's side and my father have epilepsy. My grandmother had seizures when she was young, after she cried until black out. My father also had the first seizures when he was young for unknow reasons. The other children of my grandmother (my uncles) have no epilepsy, and my cousins (sons of my uncles) do not have it either. So far I'm 24 years old and totally health. Except my grandmother and father the all the other people in my family do not have this epilepsy history.
And now I plan to marriage but I'm also somehow cower, I didn't tell my girlfriend about my family. I want to know, if I decide have a baby, how much is the risk of epilepsy inheritance of my future baby. I mean how much is the percentage? Your answer is really appreciated!

Submitted by Richard on

Hi Richard

The research we used for our inheritance information suggests: if the father has epilepsy there is a 1 to 3.6 per cent chance their child may develop epilepsy. It also states ‘there is an increased incidence in the daughters of an affected individual compared with son, and there is a greater incidence among the relative of an affected women. The basis of this increased risk is unknown’.

For more details on the references we used please view our advice and information reference webpage for inheritance.

If you need to discuss this further, you may wish to contact our Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050.

Regards

Diane Wallace

Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane on

My 7.5 month old son started having seizures at the end of March that were not related to fever. All testing came back normal. He's had a total of 8 seizures on 3 different dates. My husband and I have no family history of seizures or epilepsy. We want to have another child but are worried that our next child may have seizures with an unknown cause. What are the chances of future children having seizures? With the hospital stays, developmental delays, and medication schedule I would not have another child if I knew they would also have epilepsy. Also, is there testing that can be done during pregnancy?

Submitted by Cheyenne on

HI. I am reading your page and information on epilepsy being heredity and I am on who truly believes that it is. I am an American and have trouble finding people who want to follow my belief. The reason for my belief is as follows: My grandfather had epilepsy and did pass away from having a seizure while swimming. He passed it onto my Mother she had epilepsy and ended up have two brain tumor surgeries. She did survive the surgeries, but has had major complications from the surgeries. Her seizures have stopped. I have one older brother that did have epilepsy, his seizures did occur mainly overnight. He did have brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. He did not wake up from the surgery and went into a coma. He did pass away from the surgery. A sister also had epilepsy. Her epilepsy has stopped. My epilepsy did start at age 27. The Dr. started me with five different pills for seizures. The seizures continued. He constantly changed the pills I took, but it did no good. He put me on a VNS, however all seizures are while I am asleep and the person I am with at night is not ready to put the magnet on, as they are asleep. The VNS did not stop seizures. I then went to get a second opinion after about ten years and my Dr. told me not to come back. The new Dr. did decide to do brain surgery and I went along with the idea. It has been 32 months and I do still have seizures. I do live alone as I am not married now. I do not always know if I have one or not. I am sometimes asleep well into the afternoon after I have one. I make an assumption that I must of had a seizure. My sister that had epilepsy did have children. Her boy who is 14 now does have epilepsy. He takes his medicine and it is under control. That is four generations. I have talked to people in the US, and no one can say it is something that is heredity and they do not think that it is. My family members seizures are during the sleeping times. This is something that should be looked into.

Submitted by Bill Porter on

Hi Bill

Thank you for letting us know about your history of epilepsy, and the epilepsy of all the other members of your family. Some families do seem to have the tendency to pass epilepsy on, and even though this is not common, it might be the case for your family. Do you know if your epilepsy and that of your family members has been given a particular name? That would be the best way to identify whether it is hereditary or not. Of course, it may be that not enough is known about the different epilepsies affecting your family, which would make it very difficult to say one way or another whether it was hereditary.

Kathy

Advice and Information Services

Submitted by Kathy-Epilepsy ... on

Is it possible to ask a question/get advice without it being public?

Submitted by Jay on

Hi Jay

Yes it is. You can email our helpline directly on helpline@epilepsy.org.uk or call us on 0808 800 5050.

Submitted by John-Epilepsy Action on

Hi, I have a 6 year old daughter who 9 weeks ago started to suddenly have what I thought were bad dreams. She would scream out some nights and be very upset. Some nights she would sit up and stare at the walls or just stand next to the bed. She does not respond to me. She has wet the bed and has walked around the room , also not remembered any of this. I had sleep epilepsy when I was child all the way up to age 19 when it stopped. Could you please tell me if there is a possibility that this could be the case with my daughter aswell. The night episodes suddenly started 9 weeks ago and have been at least 4 times a week . And she is very tired during the day so they are affecting her. I look forward to your reply and thank you for your time,

Submitted by Miss hays on

Hello

Epilepsy can be difficult to diagnose, and several medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to epilepsy. But, it is possible that what you describe may be epilepsy related. The best thing to do is to talk to your GP about it. If they think it may be epilepsy, they can refer your daughter to an epilepsy specialist for a diagnosis. With the right diagnosis and treatment, things could start to improve for your daughter.

There are over 40 types of seizures, many with symptoms that can include being unaware, feeling frightened, screaming, wandering, wetting yourself, and other behaviours. And, for some people with epilepsy, sometimes being very tired during the day can be a sign of having had a seizure during the night.

I hope that helps.

Sacha, Epilepsy Action Advice & Information Team

Submitted by Sacha@Epilepsy ... on

My husband has seizures. I'm pregnant now, is there anyway possible that my daughter will have them as well? He wasn't born with them. They came about in his early 20's

Submitted by Jewel tuggle on

Hi Jewel

Thank you for your question.

Inheritance and epilepsy is difficult to understand. We have explained it the best we can on this webpage.

The general information is, if the father has epilepsy & he developed it after 20 years of age,  the child has only slightly higher risk than other child in the general population of developing epilepsy.

If you still have concerns talk to your husband’s epilepsy doctor or family doctor. You can also contact our helpline team either by email helpline@epilepsyor the Epilepsy Helpline freephone 0808 800 5050. 

Regards

Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on

Hi,
I am 30 year old male from India and got my first partial seizure at the age of 17 (Year 2002). I was on tegritol for few years. I was seizure free from 2010 to 2014 without medicine. I got seizure again on November 2014 and again started taking Tegritol (600 mg per day). There was no reason of seizure in MRI, CT and EEG. any though if back-pain can trigger seizures as I have lower back pain whenever I have seizure like feeling.

Submitted by Dipandra on

Hi Dipandra

Thank you for your question.

Some people with epilepsy may have a trigger for their epilepsy. We don’t list it on our information but we have heard for some people pain can be a very rare trigger.

Regards

Diane Wallace
Epilepsy Action Advice and Information Team

Submitted by Diane, Epilepsy... on