Health and Safety Concerns
Are there special concerns for women who have epilepsy?
Women who have epilepsy face special challenges. Hormonal changes can cause some women with epilepsy to have more seizures during their period.
For women with epilepsy, there are also special concerns about pregnancy, because having a seizure and taking certain drugs during pregnancy may increase the risk of harm to the baby. Women can take the following steps before and during pregnancy to lessen these risks.
- If you are a woman with epilepsy who plans to get pregnant, talk with your health team about how to best care for yourself and your baby.
- Learn more about issues facing women with epilepsy and how to improve health on the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, Women and Epilepsy.
Can a person die from epilepsy?
Most people with epilepsy live a full life. However, the risk of early death is higher for some. We know that the best possible seizure control and living safely can reduce the risk of epilepsy-related death.
Factors that increase the risk of early death include:
- More serious health problems, such as a stroke or a tumor. These conditions carry an increased risk of death and may cause seizures.
- Falls or other injuries that happen because of seizures. These injuries can be life-threatening.
- Seizures that last over 5 minutes. This is a condition called status epilepticus. Status epilepticus can sometimes happen when a person suddenly stops taking seizure medication.
Rarely, people with epilepsy can experience Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP is not well understood and experts don’t know what causes it, but they suspect that it is sometimes due to a change in heart beats (rhythm) during a seizure. Sudden death due to heart rhythm changes also happens in people who do not have seizures.
The risk of sudden death is larger for people with major uncontrolled seizures.
If I have epilepsy, can I still drive a car?
Most states and the District of Columbia will not issue a driver’s license to someone with epilepsy unless that person provides documentation that he or she has not had a seizure for a specific amount of time. The seizure-free period ranges from a few months to over a year, depending on the state.
Some states need a letter from your health provider to issue a license when a person has seizures that:
- Don’t distract the person from driving.
- Happen only during sleep. These are called nocturnal seizures
- Have warning signs that alert the person that a seizure might happen. Sometimes a person feels strange before a seizure. This is called an aura.
Sometimes people with epilepsy worry that exercise or sports may worsen their seizures.
Exercise is rarely a “trigger” for seizure activity. In fact, regular exercise may improve seizure control. Safely playing sports can also be great for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
It is always important to avoid sports-related injuries that can increase the risk of seizures.