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Many Women Know Little About Their Epilepsy

WebMD Health News

Nov. 5, 2001 -- Living with epilepsy is hard enough. When you throw women's issues into the mix, it gets even more complicated. And now a new study shows that many women don't know enough about having epilepsy.

Researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus looked at 48 women who had been living with epilepsy for an average of 15 years. Lead author Lucretia Long and colleagues tested the women's knowledge of epilepsy and various women's issues, from pregnancy and osteoporosis.

The findings were both surprising and concerning. Many women did not understand exactly what it meant to be a woman with epilepsy.

For example, although most women knew they could have children, 31% were afraid to get pregnant since they had epilepsy. And 17% were told by a previous healthcare provider that women with epilepsy should not have children.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a woman's chances of having a normal, healthy child are excellent -- greater than 90%. But there are some increased risks for women with epilepsy that they should consider before getting pregnant. If possible, women should discuss medicine and any needed changes with both their neurologist and ob-gyn before getting pregnant.

Over 30% also thought that women with epilepsy could not breastfeed. In fact, the Epilepsy Foundation says that breastfeeding is safe for most women with epilepsy. All seizure medications will be found in breast milk, but this usually does not affect the baby who already has been exposed to the mother's medication during pregnancy.

However, women do need to talk to their doctors about breastfeeding, since certain drugs can affect an infant's behavior, including making them sleepy or irritable.

About 30% of the women were also unaware of the importance of taking folic acid before getting pregnant.

The Epilepsy Foundation stresses the importance of taking vitamins with folic acid prior to and during pregnancy to reduce the risk of certain kinds of birth defects. Since many of these problems occur very early in pregnancy -- sometimes before women know they are pregnant -- it's best to start taking folic acid before becoming pregnant.

And when it comes to preventing pregnancy, many women were unaware of the effects that seizure medicines can have on oral contraceptives -- the pill. Some seizure medications increase the breakdown of contraceptive hormones in the body, making them less effective in preventing pregnancy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Seizure medications can also cause problems as women age. Some of these drugs may cause bone loss and increase the risk for osteoporosis. But almost half of the women did not know this was a concern. To receive adequate calcium, the Epilepsy Foundation recommends women take 1,200 mg/day if they are menstruating and 1,500 mg/day if they are postmenopausal.

If you are a woman with epilepsy, arm yourself with the right knowledge to help yourself live a healthier life. Misinformation and misconceptions can be dangerous. Talk to your doctor about how you can deal with being a woman with epilepsy -- from pregnancy to preventing osteoporosis.

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