I had my first seizure—a grand mal—when I was five years old. When my parents found me, my lips were blue, my eyes were rolled back, and my entire body was shaking. I was diagnosed with encephalitis. The virus had traveled to my brain, causing me to go into a four-day coma. The doctors thought that when I came out of the coma I would probably have some degree of brain damage.
My parents sat by my bedside and prayed. On the fourth day, my father looked up to find my eyes wide open. The first thing out of my mouth was “Can I have McDonald’s fries?” I sustained no brain damage, but the encephalitis left scar tissue in my brain, resulting in epilepsy.
My seizures came only occasionally as a child, until my hormones started to change.
I learned from my doctor—Orrin Devinsky, M.D. professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine and director of the NYU/Mount Sinai Comprehensive Epilepsy Center—that the reason for increased seizures around the time of ovulation and the premenstrual phase is thought to be primarily an increase in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. Hormones don’t cause seizures, but they can influence when seizures occur.
According to Dr. Devinsky, “When seizures occur exclusively or predominantly around the time of menses or ovulation (catamenial epilepsy), which they do for many women, it is especially important to maintain good sleep and avoid alcohol—certainly less than two beverages per day—during those times. For some women, a temporary increase in medication can be helpful if their menstrual cycle is regular.