Motherhood can be the most exciting phase of anyone’s life, but it can also be stressful — especially if one has epilepsy.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy, also known as seizure disorder, is defined as a neurological disorder that involves frequent seizures, says Dr Vinit Suri, senior consultant, neurology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
Transmission of information from one nerve cell to another occurs by an electrochemical process. Unusual patterns in electrical activity may cause seizures. A seizure disorder comprises any condition in which there are repeated episodes of seizures of any type.
What are the myths?
Myth: It’s hard to get pregnant if one has epilepsy.
Fact: Unless you have a prior history of infertility or a different medical condition that can affect fertility, you have the same likelihood of conceiving as women who don’t have epilepsy.
Myth: I can’t take epilepsy medication during pregnancy.
Fact: One can take epilepsy medications throughout pregnancy. However, it depends a lot on the type of medication. The doctor will adjust the dosage or switch to new medicine, but the patient probably won’t need to stop medication altogether.
Myth: If I have epilepsy, my baby will have it, too.
Fact: Epilepsy sometimes runs in families, but most children don’t inherit epilepsy from their parents.
Myth: Getting pregnant isn’t safe if you have epilepsy. It causes more seizures.
Fact: There are risks, but these can usually be controlled. The majority of expecting mothers have the same seizure frequency during pregnancy. In fact, some women even have fewer seizures.
Myth: Miscarriage is likely for an epileptic mother.
Fact: Falling on your stomach during a seizure could injure the baby. However, most of the women who have seizures while pregnant still give birth to healthy babies.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?
Along with seizures, the following are the most common symptoms of epilepsy:
- Changes in mood or energy level
- Memory loss
Some patients may also experience an aura–sensation that indicates a seizure is imminent just prior to onset.
How does pregnancy affect epilepsy?
Around 25% to 40% of women with epilepsy have more frequent seizures during pregnancy. This is especially true in women who already have regular seizures. This may be because of medications to treat epilepsy which tend to work differently during pregnancy.
How does epilepsy affect pregnancy?
- Injury from such actions as falls, bumps, or self-injurious behavior
- Injury from having a seizure while driving or operating machinery
- Aspiration of fluid into the lungs and subsequent pneumonia
- Permanent brain damage (a stroke or other damage)
- Difficulty with learning
Death or permanent brain damage from seizures is rare, but may occur. Death or brain damage is mostly caused by prolonged lack of breathing and death of brain tissue from lack of oxygen.
Epilepsy and the medications to treat it can have several effects on the mother, the pregnancy, and the fetus and newborn. However, most women are able to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Management of epilepsy during pregnancy
Pregnant women with epilepsy require very close monitoring of the disease. More frequent prenatal visits are often recommended. Most expecting mothers are treated with anticonvulsant medications. Monitoring of these medications is highly crucial for the continued control of seizures and reduction of side effects. Using as few medications as possible and at the lowest dose is required to control seizures is the main goal of the treatment.
Women with epilepsy can usually labor and deliver as other normal women. Because stress may increase the risk of seizures, a calm environment and epidural anesthesia are often suggested.
Women with epilepsy can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early prenatal care and working with their health care providers to manage their disease. Always consult your doctor for more information regarding treatment for epilepsy and pregnancy is highly recommended.