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Women’s health and epilepsy

Illustration by Justin Skeesuck

For some of us epilepsy is a chronic condition that may last a lifetime. And those of us of the fairer sex have found that epilepsy raises a whole different set of issues. These issues can range from how you feel about yourself to whether or not you want to have children.

In honor of Women’s History Month, as a quick nod to Emily Dickinson, and of course all the other women who have struggled with these decisions, this post is dedicated to the ladies out there.

Feeling Hormonal
As if it wasn’t bad enough that we bleed once a month, research is now being done to determine what sort of impact the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, have on brain activity (including seizures). This can have a marked impact as puberty begins.
To view abstracts from some recent studies see below:
Effects of progesterone on epilepsy seizures
A connection between hormones and seizures

Time to get sexyYou will need to work closely with your team of physicians: Neurologist, Primary Care, and OB/Gyn to ensure you are taking all the proper precautions for your body. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. Anticonvulsants and the birth control pill can have a very complicated interaction. According to the Epilepsy Foundation some anticonvulsants can reduce the effectiveness of hormonal birth control, increasing the risk of unplanned pregnancy. Whee, guess what honey…

Your neurologist or OB/GYN may also suggest adding folic acid as precautionary measure to protect you and your baby (should that happen) from neural tube defects as women with epilepsy are at higher risk.
Pregnancy and Epilepsy Medications
If you are concerned about your medication during pregnancy read all the literature available (there is new information every day) and become your own advocate. Ask the hard questions — even if you don’t want to hear the answers.
After the baby comes
As my dad used to say, (and sometimes still says), “Pick your spots.” He just means you can’t hold your breath through life, but you can be careful about the choices you make. So make sure friends and family know about your epilepsy so they can pitch in if need be. That can be especially important when that baby won’t sleep for days on end.

I’m not dead yet
Since hormone patterns change during menopause (oh, it was just a joke) it stands to reason that seizure patterns could change too. For tons of information on Menopause and Epilepsy visit http://www.epilepsy.com/info/women_menopause.

Heavier reading
For some heavier reading check out the American Academy of Neurology’s interview with Cynthia Harden, MD, at http://www.aan.com/news/?event=read&article_id=7650. The article uses lots of jargon but I can personally say that Dr. Harden is a fantastic advocate for women with epilepsy.

I hope you find this helpful. Let me know if there are other links that we should include.

5 Responses

  1. Kris Underwood

    Great post!!

    I've been thinking about all of this a lot myself. Particularly the hormonal/seizure connection.

  2. Jessica Keenan Smith

    @Kris Underwood
    Thanks for your comment. I'm sure many women are impacted by the interaction. Still not enough research though.

  3. Kris Underwood

    I just got these two books that might be of interest to you-they aren't specifically about epilepsy but talk in general about women, hormonal issues and diet, balancing these things through Ayurveda. Interesting concept and could very well be applied to women with Epilepsy, if you feel it's right for you.

    Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life by Dr. Claudia Welch http://tinyurl.com/4fqaxto

    Anjum's Eat Right For Your Body Type

  4. Jessica Keenan Smith

    @Kris Underwood
    Awesome, thanks Kris!

  5. Anonymous

    Please sign the petition on Change.org to promote use of modern technology in epilepsy treatment.