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"Our paper is a myth-buster," said study author Dr. Page Pennell, director of research in the division of epilepsy at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"When I entered this specialty, there were a lot of myths and stigma about women living with epilepsy," Pennell said in a hospital news release. "A couple of decades ago, women with epilepsy were discouraged from getting pregnant because it was considered risky."
"Today, we know so much more and have safer medications to help women with epilepsy have a healthy pregnancy. But myths about fertility rates remain. We wanted to evaluate those rates, specifically among women who desired to become pregnant," Pennell said.
Within a year, 60.7 percent of the women with epilepsy and 60.2 percent of the women without epilepsy became pregnant. Both groups took a similar time to conceive and had similar rates of miscarriage and live birth.
Worldwide, about 12.5 million women of childbearing age have epilepsy. Previous studies have found women with epilepsy have lower birth rates than those without epilepsy, but that could be due to fewer women with epilepsy seeking to become pregnant, the researchers said.
Neurologists should talk with female patients of childbearing age "about their plans for starting a family and about effective contraception until then," Pennell suggested.
"Our study indicates that most women with epilepsy have normal fertility rates, so planning ahead, adjusting medications and prescribing vitamins is essential for women with epilepsy throughout their reproductive years," Pennell said.
The study was published April 30 in the journal JAMA Neurology.
-- Robert Preidt
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