Synonyms in a broader sense

  • Grand mal seizure
  • Epileptic seizures
  • Occasional attack


The word epilepsy comes from the ancient Greek epilepsy, which means “the seizure” or “the assault”. Epilepsy is a clinical picture which, strictly speaking, may only be described as such if at least one epileptic seizure – convulsion – occurs with a finding typical of epilepsy in the EEG and/or MRI of the brain which indicates an increased probability of further epileptic seizures. The term epilepsy refers to various symptoms concerning the muscles (motor), the senses (sensory), the body (vegetative) or the psyche (psychic), which occur more than once as a result of abnormal excitation and excitation propagation of the nerve cells of the brain.

These symptoms are summarized as “seizures”. Depending on the form of epilepsy, this can lead to rhythmic twitching or cramping of muscle groups, sweating, olfactory disorders, an increase in blood pressure, increased salivation, wetting, tingling, pain or hallucinations. In the case of epilepsy, there is not always a prior identifiable explanation for the timing of the onset of the seizure, such as encephalitis, poisoning or scars in the brain. However, there are various causes that can contribute to the occurrence of epilepsy.


Epilepsy is a common clinical picture. In Germany alone, about 0.5% suffer from it, which affects about 400,000 people. Every year, 50 people out of 100,000 inhabitants suffer from the seizure disorder.

The rate of new cases is particularly high among children and young people. Worldwide about 3 – 5% suffer from epilepsy. Children in whom one parent has genetic epilepsy have a probability of developing seizures of up to 4%, which is eight times higher than in the general population. Also in symptomatic epilepsy, an increased propensity to suffer a seizure was observed in first-degree relatives.

Is epilepsy hereditary?

It is now assumed that most epilepsy diseases are based on a genetic predisposition that can be passed on. This applies not only, as has always been assumed, to the idiopathic forms of epilepsy, which are almost always of genetic origin, but also to symptomatic epilepsies. The latter are caused by brain damage due to lack of oxygen, inflammatory processes or accidents.

However, recent studies have shown that most patients who have epilepsy as a result of such brain damage are also genetically predisposed. Thus, in families where one person has epilepsy, a slightly increased risk can be assumed within the whole family, regardless of the form of epilepsy. The risk that one parent will pass on an existing epilepsy to their children is about 5%, if it is an idiopathic subtype it is even 10%. If both parents are affected, there is a 20% chance of inheritance.