Epilepsy is a disorder of the nervous system. It is also called a seizure disorder. Normally the body's nerves send information by electrical and chemical signals. People with epilepsy have abnormal electrical signals in the brain. This can cause a seizure. Seizures can cause severe shaking of muscles. Or they may be very mild with hardly any symptoms at all.
Women who have epilepsy tend to have more seizures when they are pregnant. This is especially true in women who already have a lot of seizures.
Pregnancy does not cause epilepsy. But a pregnant woman who has epilepsy may have seizures more often. This may be because medicines to treat epilepsy can work differently during pregnancy. They may not be absorbed as well. Or they may not work as well. Also women who have nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy may vomit the medicine before it has its full effect.
The symptoms are no different from symptoms when a woman is not pregnant. A woman with epilepsy has frequent or regular seizures with no known cause. In addition to seizures, the most common symptoms include:
Some women may also have an aura. This is a feeling that they are going to have a seizure right before it happens.
The symptoms of epilepsy may look like other health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Most women with epilepsy will have been diagnosed before pregnancy. The diagnosis of epilepsy is based on a health history and physical exam. The diagnosis can only be made after you have had more than one seizure. Your healthcare provider may order tests based on how often you have seizures. These tests may include blood tests, heart (ECG) and brain wave (ECG) tests, and a CT scan or MRI.
If you have epilepsy and are pregnant, you may need to see your healthcare provider more often. You most likely will be given medicine to prevent seizures. Monitoring of these medicines is important to control seizures and reduce side effects. Your healthcare provider will use as few medicines as possible and at the lowest dose needed to control seizures. Never stop or reduce your seizure medicine unless your healthcare provider tells you to.
You will likely have a normal labor and delivery. But stress may raise the risk for seizures. A calm birthing setting and epidural anesthesia can help.
You can raise your chances for a healthy pregnancy by getting early prenatal care. Work with your healthcare providers to manage your epilepsy.
Epilepsy and the medicines to treat it can have many effects on the mother, the pregnancy, and the developing baby. Most women are able to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. But epilepsy does raise the risk for certain complications of pregnancy. These include:
If you start having more frequent seizures, see your healthcare provider.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider: