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Epilepsy Complications

A person with epilepsy can face many challenges and dangers as he or she manages his or her condition. The seizures themselves can cause injury and, in some cases, death.

Even when not endangered by the seizures, a person with epilepsy must still come to grips personally with the condition and with the misconceptions surrounding it.

Treating epilepsy also has its drawbacks. Surgery can be dangerous and drug treatments usually involve side effects, as well as complications including:

Physical Injuries from Epilepsy

A person having a seizure can fall to the ground, or strike objects while suffering convulsions, causing injury. Convulsions can be strong enough on their own to cause injury like muscle damage.

Status Epilepticus

This is a seizure that lasts longer than normal. This is considered a serious, even life-threatening condition and is a medical emergency.

Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy

People suffering from epilepsy have an increased risk of death without obvious explanation. This phenomenon, called SUDEP for short, is not well understood, but could be related to a disturbance to the heart’s rhythm during a seizure. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, other potential causes include, breathing problems, a change to circulation in the brain, and hormonal and metabolic changes brought about during the seizure.


Women who have epilepsy can get pregnant and safely breastfeed healthy babies, but there are some possible risks. There is the potential for a reduction in fertility and an increase in the risk for birth defects because of the use of anticonvulsants. The mother’s drug regimen for her epilepsy may have to be adjusted during pregnancy.

Couples should also be aware that drug treatments for epilepsy can reduce the effectiveness of birth control. Pregnancy can sometimes change the frequency of seizures—depending on the case, frequency can increase or decrease. However, many women have no change in the frequency of their seizures during pregnancy.

Women who get pregnant can have non-epileptic seizures because of a condition called eclampsia. This is considered a potentially life-threatening situation and requires medical treatment.

Social Challenges

People who have epilepsy do face some challenges in their lives that those without the condition do not have in theirs. For instance, driving privileges are commonly restricted for people with epilepsy unless they have been free of seizures for a specific amount of time. Some sports and other recreational activities might have to be avoided, or, at the least, approached with caution. There is also the potential for social isolation and, in some cases, discrimination both socially and in the workplace.

Dealing with epilepsy can also lead to anxiety and depression.

Drug Side Effects

The drugs used to treat seizures are numerous, and many are very effective, but their use includes the risk of side effects and some of those can be serious.

Surgery Complications

There are several types of surgery used to treat seizures that have resisted drug treatment. These usually involve eliminating or otherwise neutralizing the part of the brain where the seizures originate.

  • Temporal Lobectomy: In this form of the lobectomy, there can be some loss of vision and/or impairment of memory. It can rarely cause a loss of speech or psychosis.
  • Hemispherectomy: This surgery involves deactivating one of the brain’s hemispheres by removing the operational portions. Usually only considered in certain cases.
  • Corpus Callosotomy: The brain’s primary division is in to two hemispheres, which use a specialized connective tissue called the corpus callosum to communicate. This procedure partially or completely separates the corpus callosum, minimizing or preventing communication between the hemispheres.
  • Vagal Stimulation: This procedure can cause pain, shortness of breath, hoarseness, and sore throat.

Content licensed from:

Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed : Jennifer Monti, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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