Effect on Memory and Learning. The studies on the effects of seizures on memory and learning vary widely and depend on many factors. In general, the earlier a child has seizures and the more extensive the area of the brain affected, the poorer the outcome. Children with seizures that are not well-controlled are at higher risk for intellectual decline.
Social and Behavioral Consequences. Learning and language problems, and emotional and behavioral disorders, can occur in some children. Whether these problems are caused by the seizure disorder and anti-seizure medications or are simply part of the seizure disorder remains unclear.
Effects of Epilepsy in Adults
Psychological Health. Many adults with epilepsy show signs of depression. People with epilepsy have a high risk for suicide, particularly in the first 6 months following diagnosis. The risk for suicide is highest among people who have epilepsy and an accompanying psychiatric condition such as depression, anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, or chronic alcohol use. Antiepileptic drugs (such as carbamazepine, gabapentin, topiramate, valproate, and many others) can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior. [For more information, see Medications section in this report.]
Overall Health. Patients with epilepsy often describe their overall health as "fair" or "poor," compared to those who do not have epilepsy. People with epilepsy also report more pain, depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. In fact, their overall health state is comparable to people with other chronic diseases, including arthritis, heart problems, diabetes, and cancer. Treatments can cause considerable physical effects, such as osteoporosis and weight changes.
Effect on Sexual and Reproductive Health
Effects on Sexual Function. Some patients with epilepsy experience sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction. These problems may be caused by emotional factors, medication, or a result of changes in hormone levels.
Effects on Reproductive Health. A woman’s hormonal fluctuation can affect the course of her seizures. Estrogen appears to increase seizure activity, and progesterone reduces it. Antiseizure medications may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.
Epilepsy can pose risks both to a pregnant woman and her fetus. Some types of anti-epileptic drugs should not be taken during the first trimester as they can cause birth defects. Women with epilepsy who are thinking of becoming pregnant should talk to their doctors in advance to plan changes in their medication regimen. Women should learn about the risks associated with epilepsy and pregnancy, and precautions that can be taken to reduce them. [For more information, see “Treatment during Pregnancy” in Treatment section of this report.]
Review Date: 01/28/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.