June 7, 2019

Being a teen with epilepsy

Navigating your child's teen years can be a challenge. Some topics are simpler than others when it comes to offering advice.

Dating, puberty and driving can be major milestone events for your teenagers and no doubt they will have questions. Let's discuss everything from your teenager's fear of rejection to menstruation and its potential effect on seizure frequency.

Dating and epilepsy

Epilepsy shouldn't keep you from dating and having relationships as a teenager or an adult. A few fears that come to the forefront include the fear of rejection when asking someone out, and the fear of telling your partner about your illness. 

The fear of being rejected is scary for everyone but those with epilepsy might be concerned they'll be rejected because of their condition. Unfortunately, everyone is rejected from time to time and it's important to point out to your teen that people can be afraid of what they don't understand and that their reaction should not be taken personally. A little education, along with time and patience, can go a long way for people who are new to the idea of epilepsy (or any condition they do not know much about).

For those teens in a relationship, it's important to tell the person you are dating about your epilepsy as soon as you are comfortable enough with them, especially if the seizures are not well controlled. If you are nervous about explaining your own condition, you can test the waters and bring up a fictitious "friend" you know who has epilepsy and see how the other person reacts. This will allow you to get your message just right for when you tell them about your own condition. Help them understand that epilepsy is nothing to be afraid of and that it is just one of the many things that make you unique.

Puberty and epilepsy

Puberty does not cause epilepsy, but the hormonal changes that females experience can trigger seizures, as well as anxiety and stress.

If you have frequent seizures due to epilepsy you might also have a higher risk of having irregular periods than other girls of the same age. Over time, a pattern of seizure frequencies could begin to develop. Most commonly, the change in hormones will cause an increase in seizures at the start of your period, around the middle of your menstrual cycle or in the week before your period.

If you notice a link between your cycle and epileptic activity, keep a seizure diary for at least three months and make sure to discuss this with your doctor at your next appointment.

Driving and epilepsy

The loss of driving due to epilepsy can be frustrating for people of any age. Not being able to obtain your first driver's license at the age of 16 can seem like the end of the world to your teenager. Driving a car is seen as synonymous with independence and a passport to adulthood.

Driving restrictions for individuals with epilepsy vary from state to state and if seizures are well managed, driving might not be an issue. In fact, 700,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. have epilepsy. Studies have shown that the rate of fatal accidents in people with epilepsy is lower than the highest-risk groups, such as young drivers and those who abuse alcohol.

Point out to your teen that if they are unable to drive, there are many alternatives such as riding with friends, carpooling or public transportation. The lack of a driver's license should not stand in the way of social activities or holding a job. Driving can be the incentive parents have been looking for to get their teens to take their medications on time to get their seizures under control. While a doctor's note is not always mandatory, some DMVs require their recommendation.

If epileptic seizures are not well controlled by medication or other treatments, you should not drive; you could hurt yourself or someone else. Depending on the state you live in, you must be free of seizures for three months to one year to be deemed ready to drive a vehicle.

The UW Health Kids Comprehensive Pediatric Epilepsy Program at American Family Children's Hospital specializes in the care of children who have experienced their first seizure to those whose epilepsy has progressed to a more difficult stage.

Our team consists of epileptologists, neuropsychologists, neuroradiologists, epilepsy neurosurgeons, registered dietitians, epilepsy nurses and EEG technologists. Our goal is to help children with epilepsy live active, productive lives. We pride ourselves in being responsive to the needs of our patients and families.