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Puberty

Body changes

Puberty is the time when a girl’s body begins to change into a woman’s body.

  • You will grow more body hair.
  • Your breasts will develop.
  • You will start to have periods (menstrual cycles).

Having epilepsy usually does not affect how or when you go through puberty. Most girls begin noticing these changes between the ages of 10 and 14 years – but it may happen earlier or later in some girls.

Mood changes

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When girls start having periods, their bodies start having cyclic changes in chemicals called hormones.

  • Hormone levels rise and fall each month, and these cycles can affect emotions and mood.
  • Some girls will experience more depression, anxiety or irritability in the week before and the first days during her period.

Girls with epilepsy may be at higher risk for such mood problems, both due to the epilepsy itself and possibly due to her anti-seizure medication (ASM).

Be sure to talk to your health care team about these issues, because help is available!

Periods and seizures

Some girls might find that they are more likely to have seizures at certain times of the month - usually either halfway between periods (mid-cycle) or near the start of her period. This is called “catamenial epilepsy” and is due to hormone effects on the brain. Not all girls will notice such a pattern. If you do, talk to your neurologist about ways to better control your seizures.

Social Issues

Driving

Learning to drive and getting a driver’s license may be the most important step toward gaining a sense of independence in the teen years. For girls with epilepsy, there may be a delay in reaching this milestone if their seizures are not controlled. Driving a car is exciting, but also very dangerous. Different states have different laws about how long you will have to be seizure-free before getting your license.

Partying

As a teen, you may feel pressured to drink alcohol or use drugs when in social situations. Some people will try to convince you that these things will make you feel better, more relaxed, or happy - and you might be curious.

As a person with epilepsy, you need to be aware that you are at a higher risk for serious health consequences from drinking alcohol or using certain drugs - especially “stimulant” drugs like amphetamines and cocaine.

Stimulants will make you much more likely to have a seizure, and alcohol withdrawal can do the same thing.

Make wise choices!

Relationships

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It is important at all stages of life to have friends who understand and support you. As a teenager, you are likely to make some friendships that will last a lifetime. You may feel scared to discuss your epilepsy with your friends - and you don’t have to tell everyone you know - but if you spend a lot of time with someone and you have even occasional seizures, it is probably best to discuss what may happen to you if you have a seizure, and what they should do if they see you have one.

Deciding to have sex

During your teen years, the question of if and when to start having sex will probably come up. You may have friends who start having sex and tell you that you should, too. We hear about it in music and see it in movies… but that doesn’t mean that you have to have sex before you are ready in order to be “normal.”

It is a very personal decision that should be made carefully. Girls should never feel pressured to have sex. If and when you decide it is time to have sex, it is important to know possible consequences and to take steps to prevent exposure to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and also to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Be sure you understand how having epilepsy and taking seizure medication may impact your choices for birth control.

Birth Control

Using condoms every time you have sex is the best way to avoid exposure to STDs; but as a birth control method, it is not 100% reliable. No method is, but certain options such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) are much more reliable in preventing pregnancy.

Other reasonable options include the birth control pill or other hormonal methods (implants, patches, and injections) - but these may not be the best choice for girls with epilepsy due to hormone interactions with anti-seizure medications.

Learn about birth control, and talk with your doctor about options before you start having sex.

If/when& you plan to have your own children, you should talk to your neurologist early for guidance. See other pages on this website for information regarding issues like fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding.

School

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People with epilepsy are more likely to have problems with concentration and memory than people without epilepsy. While you are still in school, this might be especially noticeable. Talk to your doctor to find out if your memory and concentration issues may be due to medication side effects, and if changes to medication can be made safely. Otherwise, talk to your teachers about getting extra time for taking tests.

Jobs and career planning

As a teenager, you may start working at least part time or in the summers until you are done with high school. This is also the time that most people begin to think about long-term career planning. Will you go to college? Join the military? Learn a trade?

Almost all options should be available to most people with epilepsy, unless the job is particularly high-risk and seizures are not well-controlled.

Any job that requires driving, climbing to high places, using firearms, or working around dangerous equipment or water could be considered risky to someone who has uncontrolled seizures. People with epilepsy can still hold many such jobs if their seizures are well controlled with medication. There are a few jobs that are not available to people epilepsy, such as interstate truck driver and pilot.

Establishing Your Identity - Becoming YOU

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The teenage years are a time of big changes. You may struggle at times as you figure out the person you want to become as an adult. Having epilepsy may feel like an extra burden to bear, but it should not define you. You are not “an epileptic” — you are a young woman (who happens to have epilepsy) who can be successful and happy. Work with your neurologist and other healthcare providers to keep your seizures controlled. Make healthy choices…and “seize the day!”

Authored By: 
Kristine Ziemba MD, PhD
Authored Date: 
09/2019
Reviewed By: 
Elaine Wirrell MD
Teresa Cook RN
Elaine Kiriakopoulos MD, MSc
on: 
Wednesday, September 25, 2019