American Family Physician; Kansas City; Oct 15, 2002; Martha J Morrell;
Epilepsy in women raises special reproductive and general health concerns. Seizure frequency and severity may change at puberty, over the menstrual cycle, with pregnancy, and at menopause. Estrogen is known to increase the risk of seizures, while progesterone has an inhibitory effect. Many antiepileptic drugs induce liver enzymes and decrease oral contraceptive efficacy. Women with epilepsy also have lower fertility rates and are more likely to have anovulatory menstrual cycles, polycystic ovaries, and sexual dysfunction. Irregular menstrual cycles, hirsutism, acne, and obesity should prompt an evaluation for reproductive dysfunction. Children who are born to women with epilepsy are at greater risk of birth defects, in part related to maternal use of antiepileptic drugs. This risk is reduced by using a single antiepileptic drug at the lowest effective dose and by providing preconceptional folic acid supplementation. Breastfeeding is generally thought to be safe for women using antiepileptic medications.