Epilepsy During Pregnancy

If you have epilepsy, you’re probably wondering how it will affect your pregnancy. Here, plenty of answers.
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By Jennifer L.W. Fink, Registered Nurse
Updated March 2, 2017
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What is epilepsy during pregnancy?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes seizures.

What are the signs of epilepsy?

Seizures are the hallmark of epilepsy, but not all seizures are lay-down-on-the-floor-and-twitch events. Some seizures are very small and subtle. A person having a seizure could just seem temporarily lost in thought or have a brief staring spell.

Are there any tests for epilepsy?

A brain scan called an electroencephalogram (EEG) may be used to diagnose epilepsy. Head CT scans, MRIs and other lab tests may also be used. Your doctor may also perform a neurological and behavioral exam and test your blood for signs of infection, anemia or diabetes, all of which can cause seizures.

How common is epilepsy during pregnancy?

In the US about 1 million women of reproductive age have epilepsy.

How did I get epilepsy?

That’s a tough question to answer. Genetics, head injuries and some kinds of diseases can cause epilepsy, but sometimes there isn’t an obvious cause.

How will my epilepsy affect my baby?

Babies of women with epilepsy have twice the risk of birth defects as babies of women without epilepsy. But the risk is still minimal — 4 to 8 percent for moms with epilepsy who take meds versus 2 to 4 percent for other moms. Some common antiseizure meds are known to increase the risk of birth defects, so work with your doctor to develop a treatment regimen that minimizes risk to your baby while keeping you both safe (see Page 2 for treatments).

What’s the best way to treat epilepsy during pregnancy?

Antiseizure medication can keep seizures at bay. You might be worried about taking meds while pregnant, but epilepsy is one of those times when the benefits can outweigh the risks. “All antiseizure meds pose some risk to the fetus, but in epilepsy, it’s clear that the seizures are far more dangerous to the pregnancy and the baby than the medications are,” says Sharon Phelan, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico. “A woman should not stop taking her medicine, thinking that it’s the safest thing for her baby, because the seizures themselves can be dangerous. Often when women have seizures, they fall down, hurt themselves or stop breathing. All of those things can cause serious problems.”

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What can I do to prevent epilepsy-related complications during pregnancy?

“Ideally, a woman who has epilepsy who’s on medication should plan her pregnancy,” Phelan says. “Before getting pregnant, she should work with her neurologist to switch her med to one that’s safe during pregnancy.” To help prevent birth defects, you should take a folic acid supplement prior to (and throughout) pregnancy.

Are there any other resources for epilepsy?

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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