Abstract Background Epilepsy is a group of neurological disorders characterized by recurrent epileptic seizures. Epilepsy is affected by many factors, approximately 20–30% of cases are caused by acquired conditions, but in the remaining cases, genetic factors play an important role. Early establishment of a specific diagnosis is important to treat and manage this disease. Methods In this study, we have recruited 43 epileptic encephalopathy patients and the molecular genetic analysis of those children was performed by whole-exome sequencing (WES). Results Fourteen patients (32.6%, 14/43) had positive genetic diagnoses, including fifteen mutations in fourteen genes. The overall diagnostic yield was 32.6%. A total of 9 patients were diagnosed as pathogenic mutations, including 4 variants had been reported as pathogenic previously and 6 novel variants that had not been reported previously. Therefore, WES heralds promise as a tool for clinical diagnosis of patients with genetic disease. Conclusion Early establishment of a specific diagnosis, on the one hand, is necessary for providing an accurate prognosis and recurrence risk as well as optimizing management and treatment options. On the other hand, to unveil the genetic architecture of epilepsy, it is of vital importance to investigate the phenotypic and genetic complexity of epilepsy.