Do Oral Contraceptives Increase the Risk of Seizures?

By BetteDavisEyes at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do certain types of oral contraceptives cause an increase in the risk of seizures in women who have epilepsy? A recent study suggests that an ingredient in these pills, ethinyl estradiol, could be harmful to the epileptic brain.

The Study

A recent Texas A & M Health Science Center study suggests that ethinyl estradiol, the primary component of oral birth control pills, could be detrimental to the brain of a woman with epilepsy. The findings of this study were recently published in the journal Epilepsy Research.

Dr. D. Samba Reddy, PhD, professor of the neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A & M Health said, “We were inspired by an earlier study which surveyed women with epilepsy and found that those using hormonal contraceptives self-reported 4.5 times more seizures than those who did not use oral contraceptives.”

The study discovered when epileptic animal subjects were given the chemical, they not only had more frequent seizures, but the seizures were more likely to be uncontrolled. Dr. Reddy states, “We suspected for some time that hormonal birth control increases seizures in women with epilepsy, but now we know what part of the contraceptive is problematic.”

He said epilepsy is more difficult to control in females once they reach the age of sexual maturity. Dr. Reddy went on to explain, “The hormones that control menstruation and pregnancy can trigger seizures. Women often experience more seizures in the week before their period due to the change in these hormones.”

While epilepsy is more common in men than women, women with the disorder tend to experience seizures more frequently than men and the seizures women have are often times more uncontrollable. Uncontrollable seizures last longer than 30-40 seconds and are more prone to causing permanent brain damage.

Dr. Reddy said, “Controlled seizures don’t tend to leave lasting damage, but uncontrolled seizures originate deeper in the brain. Some parts of the brain are more vulnerable to damage than others, for example the hippocampus, which has a role in regulating memory and spatial orientation. If that is damaged, the person can suffer impairments to their normal functioning.”

Conclusion to the Study:

As a result of the study, Dr. Reddy recommends that women who are of childbearing age with epilepsy speak with their neurologist or endocrinologist about using some type of non-hormonal birth control methods. Such non-hormonal methods of birth control include condoms, a copper intra-uterine device or other barrier methods.

The research for this study was partially funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health.


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