Historically, when it comes to health, men have not been very good advocates for their own cause.
Epilepsy can be associated with unique, gender specific challenges related to sexual health, mood and self image. This differs from person to person, but certainly gender can be a factor on how epilepsy affects someone.
Men and Epilepsy
Male and female sex hormones can influence the excitability of nerve cells in the brain and thus influence seizure control. Hormones not only affect seizures they can also play a role in:
- Energy levels
- Drive and motivation
- Sexual function
- Bone density
The impact of epilepsy can differ between genders across the ages. For instance:
- Males quote driving, physical activity limitations and financial worries as their main concern compared to females who worry more about pregnancy and fatigue
- Both men and women with epilepsy tend to have slightly different problems with reproduction
- Males pursue epilepsy surgery more actively
- Males have a higher rate of status epilepticus, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) and death compared to females.
Changes because of epilepsy
Men and women have different social roles and men often stress about different things to women. This can sometimes translate to different seizure triggers as well.
Being diagnosed with epilepsy will no doubt change a number of aspects in life. Sometimes this will be short term, sometimes longer. Some life changes that you may have to adapt to include:
- Change in role – possibly within the family and/or the workplace. This is particularly relevant especially if you are the family bread winner. This can be a challenge if you are no longer able to work or drive. Major role changes can affect self-esteem, cause anxiety, and/or depression, marital and relationship problems, and higher degrees of personal stress. This may cause difficulties in planning a future.
- Change in employment – Seizures may force someone with epilepsy to have to change jobs or reconsider their work role significantly. This can lead to financial hardship, unhappiness, depression or mood changes.
- Unemployment – appears to be at least two to three times that of the general population and can often happen suddenly if there are significant safety concerns if a seizure occurs in the workplace.
- Underemployment – because of safety concerns or undue concerns about seizures, or difficulty finding employment, people are often employed in a position lower than what they can perform – providing less income and less self-assurance.
- Change in income – financial struggles increase stress and ultimately affect health. A diagnosis of epilepsy can not only cause employment changes, it can lead to increased costs related to medical tests, doctors’ visits medications and possibly transport.
- Loss of drivers licence – this can have an enormous impact on role, employment, social life and most aspects of lifestyle. It can cause social isolation and dependence on others.
- Social life – Drinking habits and late nights usually need to be modified – which can impact on social activities and peer acceptance, particularly in young men. This may cause feelings of anger, resentment, denial and social isolation – which can also lead to non-compliance with a healthy lifestyle and taking medications as prescribed.
These changes don’t apply to everyone and aren’t necessarily long term, they may be temporary until you have your seizures well managed.
- Sex drive – Many people with epilepsy report some change in sexual desire (libido), behaviour, or activity as a result of their epilepsy. The most common change is a general lessening of sexual interest and activity, sometimes called hyposexuality. Many factors can be involved in loss of libido including depression, anxiety, seizures and medications.
- Impotence – some medications may cause erectile dysfunction in men. This can be discussed with the specialist and medications can be changed if this is found to be the cause.
All of the above points can impact on your self-worth and self-esteem.
Some people with epilepsy can have difficulties with self-esteem. They can feel self conscious about having epilepsy and worry about having seizures in public. Other things that can affect self esteem include a fear of being judged or discriminated against, and the loss of independence.
The effects of low self esteem can include:
- General life dissatisfaction
- Depression, anxiety
- Loss of confidence
- Sexual problems
There are ways you can improve your quality of life and self esteem. Don’t focus on what you can’t change, look at what you can change.
- Seizure control
It is important to take your medications as prescribed and make some lifestyle changes to improve your chances of good seizure control.
- Identify seizure triggers
Try to identify what circumstances can bring on a seizure. Common reported triggers are missing medication, stress, lack of sleep or over-tiredness, certain drugs or medications, alcohol, sickness, or you may have your own specific triggers. Keep a diary of your seizures and the circumstances in which they happen. Sometimes this can identify patterns and things that may be setting off your seizures. When you understand this, it is a good start to avoiding situations that may cause your seizures.
- Go through the motions
It’s normal to go through feeling shocked, angry and devastated that you have epilepsy. A range of emotions, mood swings, turmoil and confusion are a part of accepting the condition. It can be a difficult condition to predict and know what is going to happen. Find someone to talk to, a support group or online community, share it with your partner or close friends or find a professional. You can also call us for advice and guidance.
- Be active
Exercise and being active is good for your mental and physical health, reduces stress and improves sexual function. Keep busy and continue your normal activities (unless your doctor suggests it’s unsafe, or find other activities that you can enjoy). Keeping active takes the focus off worrying about your seizures and is good for your overall health.
- Keep Healthy
Eat well and get enough sleep. People report they have fewer seizures when they lead a healthy lifestyle. When you first start taking medication it may make you feel tired. This is common and your body should adjust to this, but try not to keep too many late nights and avoid too much alcohol.
- Be safe
Especially if seizures are not under control. Think about potential situations around the home, workplace or during activities. Try to avoid situations that could be catastrophic if a seizure occurs – such as swimming alone, surfing, scuba diving, working at heights or with machinery. See our Seizure Smart Safety Fact Sheet for more information.
- Learn about epilepsy
Learning about epilepsy is the first step to taking control, moving on, improving and managing your disease effectively. The more you know the easier it will be to put the fears and misconceptions of having epilepsy into perspective.
Make a list of questions and keep a diary of your seizures. These will help you learn more about your epilepsy and what triggers your seizures. It also aids the neurologist in deciding appropriate management.