Epilepsy

Women and epilepsy

Women with epilepsy discussed various issues that were important to them, including hormonal changes, contraception, conception and pregnancy.

Some women find that seizures occur just before their period and during it. Most of these women find that they might have seizures at any time, but they are more common around the time of menstruation (see 'Trigger factors for epilepsy').

On average women's periods stop in their early fifties and they can then no longer become pregnant (the menopause). Epilepsy can develop at any stage of life and some women might develop epilepsy at this time coincidentally. Some women who have had seizures for many years may find that these improve or disappear about then.

Contraception concerned some women, particularly as some anti-epileptic drugs can speed up the metabolism of the contraceptive pill and reduce its effectiveness. Some women explained that they were on a higher dose of the contraceptive pill to compensate for this effect of their anti-epileptic medication. One woman was not told about this, and said she would have liked more information on contraception and anti-epileptic drugs.

Conception and pregnancy were also considered important issues for many women with active epilepsy. Several women we interviewed had discussed their concerns about conception, pregnancy and anti-epileptic medications with their doctors. A few women mentioned changing drug dosages so that they could be on the lowest effective dose well before they even thought about conceiving.

Women with active epilepsy need to continue taking their anti-epileptic medication during pregnancy. Several women explained how drugs or dosages were changed before conception or early into the pregnancy. They also discussed their worries about pregnancy and possible risks to the baby.

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One woman noted that she was advised to stop taking medication before conception. She said that her first pregnancy was fine, but the second involved problems which might have been caused by her drugs. Another explained how her second baby, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, died soon after birth. She also discussed her feelings about the effects of anti-epileptic drugs on her pregnancy.

Some women talked about having a forceps delivery. One woman had a forceps delivery with her second child because she'd had a seizure. Another recalled problems afterwards because of a seizure and high blood pressure.

Most women with epilepsy do not have more seizures during pregnancy than before. Breastfeeding is encouraged for women with epilepsy, as it is for mothers generally.

Several women worried about their epilepsy and future pregnancy. One explained that she would like more information on looking after herself before conception and during pregnancy. Another was concerned about anti-epileptic drugs and pregnancy.

Last reviewed May 2016.
Last updated March 2014.

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