Classes & Events News Get

Is Epilepsy Hereditary?

April 19, 2024

Blue abstract brain wave activity

Understanding the cause of epilepsy is an important part of treating it, but there are many possible reasons people may develop epilepsy. While some kinds of epilepsy are inherited, others may not be passed down from parents.

Whether inherited or caused by another factor, epilepsy is a condition that often requires constant management throughout a patient’s life. Stefan Gillen, DO, a neurologist with Atlantic Health System, shares more about what causes epilepsy, available treatments and how to live with this condition.

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a chronic medical condition that is defined by the recurrence of seizures. Once diagnosed, management and treatment of this condition will hinge on the type of epilepsy. Some forms are self-limiting and only require treatment in childhood, though, most types of epilepsy last throughout a patient’s lifetime and require regular management to prevent seizures.

“Epilepsy is a diagnosis that captures a whole spectrum of various seizure types,” says Dr. Gillen. “Seizures can be generalized, when they start from everywhere in the brain all at once, or focal onset, when they begin in one part of the brain. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of epilepsy and what parts of the brain are affected.”

What Causes Epilepsy?

Anyone can be affected by epilepsy at any age, though most genetic epilepsy is diagnosed in childhood. Doctors also see a bump in epilepsy diagnosis among older adults, often from acquired brain injuries or diseases over the years, including traumatic brain injuries and stroke. Children can also get epilepsy as a result of infections like encephalitis, trauma or cancer.

Some forms of genetic epilepsy include:

  • Dravet syndrome
  • Frontal lobe nocturnal epilepsy
  • Juvenile myoclonic epilepsy
  • Progressive myoclonic epilepsy

Researchers have also identified the mutations for many genetic epilepsies. While some of these mutations can be passed down from parents to children, most are sporadic.

“Genetic testing for epilepsy is becoming more readily available and patients can even do swabs at home to identify some specific mutations,” says Dr. Gillen. “There is still a lot we don’t know but the availability of genetic testing is helping to give patients more accurate diagnoses and, potentially, targeted treatments.”

How is Epilepsy Treated?

The first treatment for most epilepsy is an antiseizure medication. Some epilepsies with known genetic causes have specific drugs available that are tailored to treat those forms of epilepsy. Other potential epilepsy treatments range from special diets and neuromodulation devices like vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), responsive neurostimulation (RNS) and deep brain stimulation (DBS). In some cases, patients may be able to receive surgery to treat or cure their epilepsy.

Lifestyle can also play a role in managing epilepsy. Getting good sleep at night, adhering to medications and avoiding known seizure triggers can help people with epilepsy avoid situations that might put themselves or others in harm’s way.

  • Brain Health