Epilepsy, your periods and getting pregnant
Your menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period and ends on the day before your next period. Most women have a menstrual cycle of between 24 and 35 days and ovulate (release an egg) around 10-16 days before their next period. If they have sex, this is the time of the month when they might be able to get pregnant.
Your menstrual cycle can be affected by your epilepsy, the number of seizures you have, your age or your epilepsy medicine. Sometimes, periods might start earlier or later than expected. And some women with epilepsy find that their periods don’t follow a pattern, or happen very rarely. This can make it difficult to work out when the best time is to have sex, to have a chance of getting pregnant.
If your periods don’t follow a pattern, or happen rarely, it’s a good idea to talk to your family doctor. They might give you advice or suggest you have some blood tests. If they feel your epilepsy medicine could be affecting your menstrual cycle, they might refer you to an epilepsy specialist.
Polycystic ovary syndrome and your periods
Another possible cause of irregular periods is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you have PCOS, you have cysts on your ovaries and unusual hormonal levels. This might stop you from ovulating (releasing an egg) every month, and will make it difficult for you to become pregnant. You might also have other symptoms with PCOS including: hair loss, weight gain, acne and excess facial hair.
Any woman can be affected by PCOS. But studies suggest it’s more common in women with epilepsy, who are taking epilepsy medicines, particularly women taking sodium valproate. If you are concerned that you might have PCOS, talk to your doctor. With treatment, most women with PCOS are able to get pregnant.
You might be worried that your epilepsy medicine is causing you to have PCOS. However, it’s very important you don’t stop taking it without speaking with your doctor. If you suddenly stop taking epilepsy medicine, it could cause you to have more seizures. Or they might become more severe.
Women with epilepsy may have a slightly higher risk of reduced fertility than women who don’t have epilepsy. This means it might take them longer to get pregnant. If you have been trying to get pregnant for a while, and it hasn’t happened, talk to your doctor. They can look into the possible reasons for you and your partner and, if needed, suggest treatment.
If you have reduced fertility, you might be offered treatment with hormone based drugs to help you get pregnant. Some women with epilepsy have said they have had more seizures than usual while taking these.
If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. If you are unable to access the internet, please contact our Epilepsy Action Helpline freephone on 0808 800 5050.
Epilepsy Action would like to thank Epilepsy Specialist Midwife Kim Morley for her contribution to this information.
Kim Morley has no conflict of interest.
This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.
- Updated January 2017To be reviewed January 2020