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Women and epilepsy: closing the knowledge gap

February 02, 2017 | Mona Sazgar, MD
pregnant woman with partner and daughter

Epilepsy affects 1 percent of the U.S. population. Those cases are evenly split between men and women, but women have unique challenges that intersect with their reproductive health, something many doctors are not fully aware of.

As an epileptologist at UCI Health, my specialty is treating women who suffer from this condition.

Do women experience epilepsy differently than men?

Women can suffer from a subtype of epilepsy called catamenial epilepsy, in which seizures cluster around a woman's menstrual cycle, likely due to hormonal fluctuations.

Seizures may increase during ovulation or menstruation. Treatment needs to target the time of the seizure exacerbation, using both hormonal and non-hormonal options.

What about catamenial epilepsy and pregnancy?

There are a number of seizure medications that can cause serious birth defects in babies if a woman takes them while she's pregnant.

It's really important that women with epilepsy who are planning to become pregnant consult with someone knowledgeable about those issues.

Do medication concerns make surgery more likely?

Women still need to meet all the same criteria as men to be come a candidate for epilepsy surgery. If a woman is a candidate, that certainly makes a stronger case for consideration of surgical options.

Do a lot of doctors understand treating women with epilepsy?

Some physicians may be aware of the specific challenging issues in caring for women with epilepsy. Others may be aware, but not comfortable counseling and treating.

I think that's why we've become such a unique referral center for young and pregnant women with epilepsy.

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