So a few weeks ago I was invited along to share my story at the Epilepsy Action pregnancy symposium in Wales. It was an amazing opportunity for me and I feel my story really helped highlight the need for better support for women with epilepsy throughout pregnancy.
It was fantastic to see so many health professionals from across Wales interested in making women with epilepsy have more positive birth experiences. I was really surprised to see what a good level of specialist support they seem to have across Wales with epilepsy nurses attending anti natal clinics to give support. Yet in our area just South of London there was next to no specialist input.
But the day also highlighted to me a darker side of epilepsy and I have been umming and arghing about how to write this post. Reading this post about the importance of bringing epilepsy and death out of the shadows has kick started me into writing this.
Risks of Epilim (Sodium Valporate)
We have all heard the awful stories of women having been on Epilim during pregnancy and not being informed of the risks to their baby. Of the babies born with birth defects and neurodevelopmental problems. The day really did highlight the importance of informing women of these risks which is brilliant but it also addressed the other side of the coin... the fact that epilepsy can kill.
The reason I am writing this is because women should be given all the information when making a choice about medication during pregnancy.
I have heard people say Epilim should be band in women of child baring age but this is why it shouldn't, because every woman should be given all the information then given specialist support to come to the right decision for them.
Gender gap in treatment of generalised epilepsy
Epilim is the most effective treatment for generalised epilepsy (things like Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy). If a man walks into an epilepsy clinic with a generalised epilepsy syndrome he'd be put on Epilim as a first line drug. If it's a young girl or women they would try other drugs, drugs less likely to work, it turns out keppra is one of the most effective drugs aside of Epilim so it's very positive that it is appearing to be fairly safe in pregnancy.
Real Story ~ to raise awareness
They told a story which really hit home to me of a women who had been on Epilim for JME throughout childhood and it had controlled her seizures completely. She then wanted to start a family and made the difficult decision to change to what was then seen as the safest medication in pregnancy, lamotrigine. She started to have a few seizures again but got through the pregnancy and had a healthy baby.
After the birth she saw her neurologist and they discussed if she wanted to go back on Epilim but because she wanted a second child she decided to stay on Lamotrigine and live with the seizures. A few months later her husband found her blue on the bathroom floor, he was unable to resuscitate her, at her inquest the family were told she had died from SUDEP.
SUDEP ~ the information everyone should have
Seizure control is the best way to reduce SUDEP so sadly if this woman had chosen to restart Epilim her child would probably still have a mother. It's a horrible truth but one that is not spoken about enough.
The risk of SUDEP increases in the first year after birth, it makes sense and yet I never really considered it. Lack of sleep, hormonal changes, forgetting medication as we are running around after our little person, all increase our risk of seizures and thus our risk of SUDEP.
We say women should have all the information about epilepsy drugs in pregnancy to make a decision and I think that is totally right. I just wonder whether this women was given all the information about SUDEP to add into that decision.
Epilim does carry a fairly substantial risk to a baby in pregnancy (you can find more information here) but uncontrolled epilepsy increases the mothers risk of SUDEP and that needs to be considered too (you can find more information on SUDEP here).
Lets face it not all women want to have children, women may be happy to take the risk of Epilim or maybe adoption is a better option for them but at the end of the day what women need is ALL the information and a supportive knowledgeable health professional to discuss it with so they can make there own informed decision about their health and the health of their baby.
Epilepsy is a difficult condition to get your head around in fact when a group of health professionals were asked whether they would rather have a diagnosis of epilepsy, diabetes or asthma, epilepsy was the least popular and yet there is an 70% chance that by taking a tablet twice a day you will never have another seizure again... but maybe it's all these extremely difficult topics that the condition throws up because at the end of the day weighing up your own risk of death against your babies risk of being harmed is a horrible and really tough decision to make.
We are amazing women, fighting tough battles, we deserve all the information and a supportive team of health professionals around us. Let's fight for that together.
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