Why is it important to plan my pregnancy?
Most women with epilepsy have a healthy pregnancy. However it can have an effect on your fertility and there are also some risks linked to epilepsy medication and baby’s development in the womb.
There are things that can be done now to help you and your baby can stay as healthy as possible. That’s why it’s really important to get the professional support you need before getting pregnant.
It is important not to stop taking medication before talking to a doctor or specialist about it. They will look at the safest options for you and baby.
Who do I speak to for advice about conceiving with epilepsy?
If you are taking anti-epileptic medications ask your GP to refer you for preconception counselling. This will be an appointment with a doctor or nurse who knows about pregnancy and epilepsy.
They can talk to you about how epilepsy affects you and the risks and benefits of all treatment options before you become pregnant. These include:
- carrying on with your current medication regimen
- adjusting your medication
- stopping your treatment altogether.
I’m waiting for a specialist appointment. Can I try to conceive in the meantime?
No, you should carry on using contraception and taking your medication until you discuss your plans with an epilepsy and pregnancy specialist.
I think I may be pregnant already. What do I do?
If you think you are pregnant contact your doctor for advice immediately. Don’t change or stop taking your medicine without speaking to them first. This could cause a more severe seizure, which could result in harm, or even death to you or your baby.
The UK epilepsy and pregnancy register
This is nationwide project investigating which epilepsy treatments pose the lowest risk to a baby's health. Any pregnant women with epilepsy can join.
When you register, you'll be asked to provide information about the treatment you're taking. This will help doctors give the best advice to you and other women who are thinking of getting pregnant.
Women with epilepsy may have a slightly higher risk of fertility problems than women who don’t have the condition. This means it may take longer for you to get pregnant.
Talk to your doctor if you are concerned. Reduced fertility can sometimes be treated with hormone-based medications.
Men and epilepsy
Testosterone is a male sex hormone responsible for many things that affect a man’s sex life. Epilepsy and some medications used to manage the condition can reduce testosterone levels. This can cause:
- loss of interest in sex
- difficulty in getting or staying aroused (known as impotence)
- fertility problems.
There is some evidence that men with epilepsy may not be as fertile as men who don’t have the condition. This can make it more difficult to father a baby. For men, some epilepsy medications can:
Remember there are other more common causes to sexual problems than epilepsy, such as tiredness, alcohol or emotional stress. But if you or your partner have any concerns about epilepsy and male sexual problems, including fertility, speak to your doctor. They may refer your partner to an epilepsy specialist.
Your menstrual cycle
Some women with epilepsy have irregular periods. This can make it difficult to know when the best time is to try and get pregnant. Talk to your doctor if you have irregular periods. They may refer you to an epilepsy specialist if they think your epilepsy medicine is causing the problem.
Polycystic ovary syndrome
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) causes cysts on the ovaries and unusual hormone levels. This can stop a woman from ovulating, which makes it difficult to get pregnant. Any woman can be affected by PCOS but research suggests it’s more common in women with epilepsy.
Many women with PCOS are able to get pregnant with treatment. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.