Coping with epilepsy during pregnancy

By: - 9th May 2019

Disorders such as epilepsy, convulsion, or seizures (fits) fall under the chronic disorder category. In this condition, an unusual spasm, which is a sudden, violent and irregular movement of the limb, occurs at unpredictable times. An epileptic spasm is caused by an involuntary contraction of nerve muscle in the motor neuron in the brain, where its behavior changes from normal functioning. The brain neurons produce additional electrical activity, which results in an epileptic spasm. Epilepsy seizures can also be also caused by high fever, head injuries or similar events.

Stages of Epilepsy

There are 3 distinct stages of epilepsy seizures: Aura, Tonic and Clonic.

Aura stage

This first stage is where an individual can sense a physical or emotional warning before a seizure occurs. This involves changes in smell, taste, visual perception, hearing and emotional state. An epilepsy patient must be able to recognize these warning signs of a seizure that is about to begin, as it helps their safety. Awareness of these stimulants can help prevent potential dangers.

Tonic Stage

The next stage is where the body muscles become tightened and lead to seizures. You can lose consciousness here, with your body going stiff and can fall to the floor if standing. Strong spasms can cause the muscles to force air out of the lungs and breathing can stop. This can last a couple of seconds and is felt in the entire body or parts.

Clonic Stage

The third stage is where your muscles relax and phlegm comes out. Your limbs jerk around and you may lose control of your bladder or bowel systems.

Epilepsy during Pregnancy

If epilepsy develops during pregnancy or you are suffering from epilepsy during your pregnancy period, this can cause adverse effects to the growing embryo. During an epileptic seizure, the growing embryo’s heart rate and oxygen supply can deplete, which can cause damage to brain cells. This can lead to premature detachment from the womb, and a miscarriage. To avoid this unfortunate situation, if you have epilepsy during pregnancy, you should adhere to the following instructions:

  • Take medicine (anticonvulsant drugs) according to medical guidance. It is important to note that these drugs can interfere with folic acid levels in the blood, resulting in a abnormal development of the child's nervous system, which can lead to birth defects. Therefore, it is essential for the pregnant mother to also take folic acid as a supplement.
  • Attend clinics regularly.
  • Control blood pressure, as high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause epilepsy.
  • Take extra caution to avoid accidents. Be careful when using electric appliances, avoid swimming in rivers or solo travelling.
  • Keep your epilepsy diagnosis card with you always.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs in the Aura stage, and become aware of the senses that you are feeling. This will alert you to go to a safe place before your seizure occurs.
  • Watch out for epileptic symptoms such as headache, dizziness, faintness, confusion, and memory loss. An epidemic condition should be diagnosed by a doctor.
  • Make sure that your bathroom is clear and does not have many steps, ledges and things around.
  • Do not lock your bathroom or bedroom.
  • Avoid sharp equipment/tools such as knives when you are in the kitchen. Ask for help or supervision if you are handling such equipment or sharp objects
  • Sleep on a low bed or on a ground mattress. Keep pillows around the mattress to avoid falling off the bed during a seizure while you sleep. Make sure that you use a smaller pillow to place your head on.
  • Do not drive.
  • Use the shower in the bathroom instead of the bath tub when washing.

An article prepared in consultation with Dr. D. M. I. Dissanayake, Anuradhapura Teaching Hospital

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