Depsite long-held opinions, researchers report that epilepsy does not decrease a woman's chances for getting pregnant. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
TUESDAY, May 1, 2018 -- Having epilepsy doesn't appear to lower a woman's chances of becoming pregnant, new research finds.
"Our paper is a myth-buster," said study author Dr. Page Pennell, director of research in the division of epilepsy at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"When I entered this specialty, there were a lot of myths and stigma about women living with epilepsy," Pennell said in a hospital news release. "A couple of decades ago, women with epilepsy were discouraged from getting pregnant because it was considered risky."
Epilepsy is a neurological condition marked by seizures, loss of awareness and other health problems.
"Today, we know so much more and have safer medications to help women with epilepsy have a healthy pregnancy. But myths about fertility rates remain. We wanted to evaluate those rates, specifically among women who desired to become pregnant," Pennell said.
The study included 89 women with epilepsy and 108 women without epilepsy who were trying to conceive. The women had no known history of infertility disorders.
Within a year, 60.7 percent of the women with epilepsy and 60.2 percent of the women without epilepsy became pregnant. Both groups took a similar time to conceive and had similar rates of miscarriage and live birth.
Worldwide, about 12.5 million women of childbearing age have epilepsy. Previous studies have found women with epilepsy have lower birth rates than those without epilepsy, but that could be due to fewer women with epilepsy seeking to become pregnant, the researchers said.
Neurologists should talk with female patients of childbearing age "about their plans for starting a family and about effective contraception until then," Pennell suggested.
"Our study indicates that most women with epilepsy have normal fertility rates, so planning ahead, adjusting medications and prescribing vitamins is essential for women with epilepsy throughout their reproductive years," Pennell said.
The study was published April 30 in the journal JAMA Neurology.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on epilepsy and pregnancy.
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