Sexual hormones and epilepsy: threat and opportunities.

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This article reviews recent developments in our knowledge of the reciprocal interactions between epilepsy and sex hormones and how these interactions may play a role in the pathophysiology and treatment of both.

RECENT FINDINGS: Community studies confirm that menstrual disorders are overrepresented among women with epilepsy, especially among women with high seizure frequency and in those on valproate or polytherapy. Reproductive function is not affected in women with epilepsy who discontinued antiepileptic drug therapy during pubertal maturation. While valproate has been implicated as having particularly notable disruptive effects on reproductive function in women with epilepsy (polycystic ovaries and hyperandrogenemia), this was not evident in non-epileptic primates. The role of epilepsy itself is evident from a study that showed that the laterality of unilateral temporolimbic discharges is associated with predictable directional changes in hormonal secretion at all levels of the reproductive neuroendocrine axis. Epilepsy in men is associated with reduced levels of sexual function, bioactive testosterone and sperm. Various antiepileptic drugs may differ in this regard.

SUMMARY: Epilepsy and antiepileptic drugs can alter sex hormone levels to promote the development of reproductive endocrine disorders in both women and men. Reproductive endocrine disorders may adversely affect both reproductive function and seizure control. Treatment of epilepsy and selection of antiepileptic drugs may be important to reproductive health in women and men with epilepsy. Sex steroids and their metabolites may also provide treatment for seizures.