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Getting pregnant

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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 length of between 24 and 35 days. Most women ovulate (release an egg) around 10 – 16 days before their next period. This is the time of the month when they might be able to get pregnant if they have sex.

Your menstrual cycle can be affected by your epilepsy itself, the number of seizures you have or your epilepsy medicine. Occasionally, your period might arrive earlier or later than expected. Some women with epilepsy find that their periods are always irregular or happen very rarely. This can make it difficult to work out when is the best time to have sex, to have a chance of getting pregnant.

If your periods are irregular or happen rarely, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. They may suggest making changes to your epilepsy medicine, to see if this can help.

Polycystic ovary syndrome and your periods

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is another possible cause of irregular periods. If you have PCOS, you have cysts on your ovaries and unusual hormone levels. This may stop you from ovulating (releasing an egg) every month. This would make it more difficult for you to become pregnant. You may also have other symptoms, which include hair loss, weight gain, acne and excess facial hair. PCOS can affect any woman.

Studies suggest that PCOS is more common in women with temporal lobe epilepsy. It is also more common in women who take the epilepsy medicine sodium valproate. There is more risk if you have taken sodium valproate from a young age. PCOS often improves once a woman stops taking sodium valproate.

Information about sodium valproate (Epilim)

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Agency (MHRA) have published some more detailed information about sodium valproate. If you are taking sodium valproate, or your doctor is considering prescribing sodium valproate for you the MHRA advise you to read this booklet along with the patient information leaflet. This is because they are advising that, if you are a woman capable of becoming pregnant your doctor should only prescribe sodium valproate if nothing else works for you.

If you are concerned that you might have PCOS, it would be a good idea to talk to your doctor. They may advise you to take the contraceptive pill, as this can reduce the effects of PCOS and make you have regular periods. This could help you to get pregnant, once you stop taking the contraceptive pill.

You may be worried that your epilepsy medicine is causing you to have PCOS. However, it is very important that you do not stop taking it without getting advice from your doctor. If you suddenly stop taking epilepsy medicine, it could cause you to have more seizures.

Fertility

Any woman can have reduced fertility. This means it may take them longer than other women to get pregnant. There are many different causes of reduced fertility. Women with epilepsy have a slightly higher risk of reduced fertility than women who don’t have epilepsy. This may be due to having epilepsy itself, or taking some epilepsy medicines.

If you have been trying to get pregnant for a while and it has not happened, talk to your doctor. They can look into the possible reasons and, if necessary, suggest treatment.

One treatment your doctor may suggest to help you get pregnant is to take hormone-based fertility drugs. Some women with epilepsy have said that they have had more seizures while taking these. However, you should not be stopped from taking hormone-based fertility drugs, just because you have epilepsy or take epilepsy medicine.

If you would like to see this information with references, visit the Advice and Information references section of our website. See Epilepsy and having a baby.

Code: 
B112.05

Epilepsy Action would like to thank Beth Irwin, Epilepsy Nurse/Midwife, Royal Hospitals, Belfast, UK, for reviewing this information.

Beth Irwin has no conflict of interest to declare.

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

  • Updated September 2014
    To be reviewed September 2017

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