You could say that epilepsy doesn't discriminate. It strikes men and women at about the same rate. Men are slightly more likely to develop it than women. But that doesn't mean that it always affects men and women in the same way. Women definitely have special issues they need to understand and prepare for.
About one million women and girls are living with epilepsy and other seizure disorders today. If you're one of them, you know that there are things that men and boys with epilepsy don't have to worry about. For example, you might notice that you have more seizures around the time of your menstrual cycle and want to know why. You may be wondering whether it's safe to get pregnant. You may question if it's safe to take epilepsy drugs during pregnancy.
To the parents of a child with epilepsy, the world may seem an especially dangerous place. If you have a child with epilepsy, you may secretly wish that you could surround your child with an entourage of nurses, or some protective bubble. All parents worry about horrible, what-if scenarios.
While these fears are perfectly natural, they generally aren't rooted in reality. The fact is that most kids with epilepsy do fine. In the vast majority of cases, they lead completely normal lives.
You're not alone. About 200,000 new cases of seizures and epilepsy occur each year. And the particular issues affecting women and girls are so important that the Epilepsy Foundation created a special initiative on Women and Epilepsy.
Doctors don't have all the answers for women with epilepsy. But a lot more research is being done and they are learning more every day. There are now more treatment options than ever.
Here are some of the things you might want to ask your doctor about to understand how your epilepsy can affect your life and how to manage it:
What birth control should I use if I have seizures?
Can epilepsy affect my fertility?
Is it safe for me to get pregnant?
Are my children at risk for developing epilepsy?
What should I do to prepare for being a parent?
How do my periods and hormones affect my epilepsy?
What will happen when I go through menopause?
It's important to know that epilepsy can usually be controlled. It typically doesn't get worse with time. Approximately 80% of people with epilepsy can be significantly helped by modern therapies, and some may go months or years between seizures. However, 10% of new patients fail to gain control of seizures despite following their prescribed treatments. But, with the help of a knowledgeable doctor, women today can manage their epilepsy and have active, healthy lives. And seizures may decrease as women get older.
SOURCES: American Academy of Neurology, "Management Issues for Women With Epilepsy." Epilepsy Foundation, "Women and Epilepsy Initiative." Epilepsy Foundation, "Epilepsy: an Introduction." National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "Seizures and Epilepsy: Hope Through Research."