Epilepsy is a rather frequent medical condition, most commonly diagnosed during childhood. Still, even though in the majority of patients epilepsy begins before they turn 20, the condition can also affect adult people as well as elderly individuals.
The main feature of each and every case of epilepsy are repeated seizures. They develop due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Depending on the type of epilepsy patients may only feel slight change in their sensations, suffer from muscle jerks and twitches and sometimes even lose their consciousness and become incontinent.
Even though special care is taken regarding all patients suffering from epilepsy, women who plan to get pregnant require even more care. This is because the disease and therapy are known to affect the pregnant woman as well as her baby.
Epilepsy during Pregnancy
It is in general difficult to predict how the disease affects pregnancy. In some women seizures actually occur as frequently as they did prior to pregnancy. In other cases, however, a woman may experience frequent epileptic attacks which is a cause of concern.
Women with epilepsy basically continue taking antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy. Doctors try to choose the safest drug and stay away from those which are confirmed to cause damage to the unborn baby. Some antiepileptic drugs are safe while others may cause a range of conditions such as spina bifida, cardiac (heart) anomalies and cleft lip. There is also increased risk of other physical defects.
The risk that a baby will develop some of the mentioned is practically even higher because these women may suffer from frequent epileptic attacks and these can lead to repeated oxygen deprivation, a serious risk factor for many health problems.
So the best thing is to opt for a safer drug but to continue with treatment. As far as treatment adjustment is concerned, all women with epilepsy are advised to consult their health care providers when they decide to get pregnant because it is much easier to adjust therapy before than after conception.
Finally, such women are due to take high doses of folic acid, and even to start taking folic acid before they conceive.
Epilepsy and Labor
There is always risk that a woman will develop seizures while giving birth. The delivery should take place in a maternity team unit in hospital. Water birth is strictly forbidden.
After birth, most women are allowed to breastfeed their babies in spite of treatment with antiepileptic drugs. However, it is best to consult the doctor and check whether the drug the mother is taking may pass into breast milk and can be harmful for the child.