Adolescence brings many milestones for all of us. For youth with epilepsy, some of these milestones may come with additional obstacles. These can often be managed through preparation and discussions with your child’s provider.
Special Concerns for Teens
For young women with epilepsy, menstruation can be a trigger for seizures. This is called catamenial epilepsy, and is a result of fluctuating hormones during one’s monthly cycle. Anyone with epilepsy who menstruates should chart their seizures and periods on a calendar, as the timing of the “trigger” is different for everyone. Some women may be prone to seizures during the few days before their period, the first few days of their period, the last half of their cycle, or mid-cycle at ovulation. In addition, some types of seizure medication can interact negatively with hormonal birth control pills.
Many teens with epilepsy will also need to take special care when applying for a driver’s license. Each state has different eligibility requirements, but all require teens to disclose their diagnosis. Some states require a minimum amount of time since an individual’s last seizure, as well as a document signed by a qualified health professional stating that an individual’s seizures are adequately controlled by medication. To look up regulations on epilepsy and drivers’ licenses for Massachusetts, or another state, click here.
It is natural for teens to try new things and explore boundaries. However, your teen should be aware that alcohol and drugs can be triggers for seizures, even in small doses. While talking about alcohol use can be difficult for any family, it is important discussion for all teens, and your provider can help.
Transitioning to Adult Care
Most people with epilepsy will be diagnosed before the age of 20. This means the majority of patients will begin their care under the supervision of a pediatrician or pediatric specialist. For children who will one day be independently responsible for their care, it is recommended to begin planning for the transition to adult care once the child is 14 years old.
Having a transition plan in place early is especially important for children and youth with epilepsy because these individuals are at a higher risk of expressing certain co-existing medical issues around the age of transition (ages 18 to 22). This includes mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. To ensure that these concerns are dealt with in a healthy way, it is important that youth and teens begin feeling comfortable reaching out to their providers, proactively seeking help, and managing their own medications early on.
When taking your teen to an office visit with their pediatrician, consider how you can encourage your child to actively participate in his or her care. Often it is helpful to ensure the child has some time alone with the clinician. It may also be helpful to prepare a list of questions with your teen before arriving. For more information on transition, you can download our Guide to Transition.