What is epilepsy?Epilepsy, also called a seizure disorder, is defined as a neurological disorder that involves recurrent seizures. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), it is estimated that epilepsy affects 1 percent of the US population (about 2.5 million people).
Transmission of information from nerve cell to nerve cell occurs by electrochemical process. Abnormal patterns in the electrical activity may cause seizures. A seizure disorder includes any condition in which there are repeated episodes of seizures of any type.
What are the symptoms of epilepsy?Epilepsy is characterized by seizures of any type that occur on a chronic, recurrent basis and have no known cause. In addition to seizures, the following are the most common symptoms of epilepsy. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- changes in mood or energy level
- memory loss
How does pregnancy affect epilepsy?From one third to about half of women with epilepsy have more frequent seizures during pregnancy. This is especially true in women who already have frequent seizures. This may be because medications to treat of epilepsy tend to work differently during pregnancy. They may not be absorbed as well or may not be as effective. Women who have nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy are more likely to vomit the medication before the medication has its full effect.
How does epilepsy affect pregnancy?General complications from epilepsy may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- injury from such actions as falls, bumps, or biting self
- injury from having a seizure while driving or operating machinery
- aspiration of fluid into the lungs and subsequent pneumonia
- permanent brain damage (stroke or other damage)
- difficulty with learning
- side effects from medications
Epilepsy and the medications to treat it can have many effects on the mother, the pregnancy, and the fetus and newborn. Fortunately, most women are able to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, epilepsy does increase the risks for certain complications of pregnancy. These include the following:
- slightly smaller babies
- pregnancy-induced hypertension (high blood pressure of pregnancy)
There is evidence that anticonvulsant medications may be linked to birth defects. It is not clear which specific drugs cause problems and it is generally agreed that preventing seizures outweighs any risks. However, most babies born to women taking these medications do not have malformations.
Infants of mothers with epilepsy are at risk for hemorrhage (excessive bleeding). Some anticonvulsant medications can affect vitamin K which is important in blood clotting. It is important for newborns to receive an injection of vitamin K to prevent bleeding.
Management of epilepsy during pregnancy:Pregnant women with epilepsy need close monitoring of the disease and of fetal health. More frequent prenatal visits are often needed. Most women are treated with anticonvulsant medications. Monitoring of these medications is important for the continued control of seizures and reduction of side effects. Using as few medications as possible and at the lowest dose needed to control seizures is the goal of treatment.
Women with epilepsy can usually labor and deliver as other women. Because stress may increase the risk of seizures, a calm environment and epidural anesthesia are often recommended.
Women with epilepsy can increase their chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early prenatal care and working with their healthcare providers in the management of their disease. Always consult your physician for more information regarding treatment for epilepsy and pregnancy.
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