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Epilepsy-related deaths and pregnancy

In this section:

Death during pregnancy and up to 6 weeks afterwards (maternal death)

Most women with epilepsy have healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. However, some women do die during pregnancy or in the first 6 weeks after giving birth. This affects women who have epilepsy and women who don’t. But the risk is increased slightly if you have epilepsy.

A report published in 2012, Saving Mothers Lives investigated the deaths of 14 women with epilepsy who had died during pregnancy in the 3 year period between 2006/2008. The actual cause of death in 11 of the 14 women was classed as Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). Of the other 3, 1 was from status epilepticus, 1 from a fall and one happened in the bath.

The report recommended that all women of childbearing age who have a medical condition should be offered pre-conception counselling. Pre-conception counselling happens before you get pregnant. For women with epilepsy, it is an appointment with a doctor or nurse who knows about pregnancy and epilepsy. The aim is to make your future pregnancies as healthy as possible.

Reducing the risk of dying during or shortly after pregnancy

  • Try not to get pregnant until after you have had individual advice about any risks to you or your pregnancy. This is known as pre-conception counselling
  • If you are already pregnant, and have not planned to be, don’t stop taking your epilepsy medicine. If you stopped taking it now, it may not make any difference to your baby’s health. But, it could cause you to have more frequent, or severe, seizures. This could cause you to be at risk of status epilepticus or SUDEP
  • If your epilepsy medicine has been changed during your pregnancy, ask for it to be re-assessed following the birth of your baby
  • Have your flu jab. This applies to all women, rather than just women with epilepsy. Pregnant women are at increased risk of serious complications and death from flu
  • Try to reduce your risk of accidents by considering our safety information
  • If you are feeling depressed or if you have thoughts about harming yourself, speak to your family doctor, midwife, epilepsy specialist or epilepsy specialist nurse straight away. You can also speak with the Samaritans

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.

Code: 
F006.05
Event Date: 
Thursday 31 March 2016 - 15:22

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Consultant Neurologist Dr John Paul Leach of Southern General Hospital Glasgow for his contributions to this information. He has declared no conflict of interest.

This information has been produced under the terms of The Information Standard.

  • Updated April 2016
    To be reviewed April 2019

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