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Women and epilepsy

Lankenau Medical Center February 4, 2014 General Wellness

More than 1 million women and girls in the country live with epilepsy. If you're one of them, you understand the unique challenges the disorder can cause. Hormones, pregnancy, and birth control can all affect epilepsy. Fortunately, it's possible to overcome these issues and lead a healthy, fulfilling life.

Douglas Maus, MD, is a neurologist and epilepsy specialist at Lankenau Medical Center. He explains that while epilepsy affects women differently than men, not all women have the same experiences. "Epilepsy is not a one-size-fits-all disorder. The key is to find a doctor who truly understands women's issues and is willing to work closely with you," says Dr. Maus. Female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, act on cells in the area of the brain where seizures often begin. As a result, fluctuation in hormones can affect seizure patients. For example, some women are prone to seizures at the beginning of their menstrual cycle. Others may have fewer seizures after menopause.

"Although it's not complete understood, there is a connection between hormones and seizures," says Dr. Maus. "Track your seizures and talk with your doctor if you suspect a hormone connection. Your medication can be adjusted to help control it."

It's important to know that anti-epilepsy medication can interfere with some types of contraception, making them less effective. Ask your doctor about your options. In some cases, your birth control medication can be adjusted to provide effective protection. It may also be wise to use a condom.

Some women with epilepsy are hesitant to have children because they worry their medications will interfere with fetal development. But according to the Epilepsy Foundation, more than 90 percent of babies are born to women with epilepsy are normal and healthy. The percentage is even higher for women who plan their pregnancy with the help of a neurologist.

"There is no reason that a woman with the disorder can't do everything that any other woman can do--work, have a family, and lead a meaningful life," says Dr. Maus.

Main Line Health neurologists offer comprehensive care for a variety of nervous system disorders. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.