Comparatively little has been written specifically for men with epilepsy. But this is not because epilepsy affects men any less than it does women. The numbers are generally seen as being pretty much equal between genders even though some writers have reported that slightly more men have epilepsy than women.


For men a wide range of specific issues have not been articulated. They exist however, and they can be quite complex, varying with such things as age, seizure type and severity and with a male’s overall health and lifestyle circumstances.

If you are a male with epilepsy

It is important to understand that your seizures are not a sign of weakness or of mental instability or of being any less intelligent or capable than anyone else. Seizures are in fact a sign that your seizure threshold has been lowered in some way. They are a clear indication that despite the fact that your brain functions perfectly well on almost every possible occasion, a small and relatively uncommon biochemical glitch can bring things temporarily undone. It is very often a very small glitch. It’s usually momentary and isolated. But, as you know, its impact can be devastating.


Epilepsy is often called an “episodic” illness because seizures come and go and in fact might only occur on very rare occasions.

Men and Compliance

Taking the tablets you have been prescribed in the way your doctor has advised is known as “compliance” and it is reported as a greater issue for men than it is for women. Some writers think it is patronising to talk about “compliance” as they equate it to “doing what you are told to do”. Treating epilepsy is not like taking a course of antibiotics to treat an infection. It is not something that popping a few pills will fix. It requires you to take tablets and keep taking them until your doctor or neurologist gives you the all clear to reduce or stop.

What happens if you stop or reduce your tablets?

If you stop taking the tablets prescribed, or even decrease the dosage, you are likely to experience what are sometimes called “breakthrough seizures” and indeed it may be harder to get your seizures back under control the second time than it was the first time. You may well be able to reduce or even cease taking drugs once you have been seizure free for a couple of years.


Tablets are sometimes resented and rejected because they are associated with the “stigma” of epilepsy. This can be a critical problem for adolescents who don’t want to have to explain why they take tablets. Or they may resent tablets as another example of the adult authority that they tend to question regardless of whether or not they have epilepsy.


If, as an adult, you have been seizure free for two or more years there is a possibility that you may be able to undergo a supervised reduction in the number of tablets you take, and even to stop altogether. It’s not a guarantee that seizures will not return.

Alcohol and other recreational drugs

Most men like a drink. And epilepsy shouldn’t stop you having a beer or two or a glass of wine with dinner, but you need to be honest with yourself about it. Alcohol can increase the sedating effects of some antiepileptic medications and it can trigger seizures under some circumstances. Some antiepileptic medications specifically recommend that you not drink while taking them and some neurologists expect their patients to follow this restriction to the letter – especially until they get their seizures under control. If it is a problem for you, speak about it with your doctor. You may be able to try another tablet or you may even be able to have the occasional drink and do so with little or no adverse reactions.


Street drugs such as cannabis, ecstasy, heroin, amphetamines or solvents can trigger seizures and when combined with a change in lifestyle that involves late nights and alcohol your risk of seizures is greatly increased. Talk to your doctor or epilepsy counsellor. You should not be playing Russian roulette with seizures. The first three to six months of your treatment are critical for you.

Is marijuana as good for seizures as many people claim?

Marijuana smokers with particular kinds of seizures will tell you that they can control seizures by smoking dope. The fact is that they may be right. But there are other facts that are equally relevant to what is happening here.


Anti–epileptic medication must be taken with clocklike regularity every day to control seizures. As marijuana is generally illegal and its supply erratic, relying on marijuana to control your seizures is fraught with danger. If you stop because your supply has dried up, you can be placing yourself at great risk and your seizures may come back with a vengeance. Another difficulty with marijuana is measuring the strength of the dope you are smoking.


In fact, if you do use recreational drugs, you will need to talk about it with your doctor or epilepsy counsellor and they will almost certainly tell you that they can trigger the very seizures that you are seeking to avoid.

Self Image

Compliance can become a particular problem for men whose self-image rests at the more rugged higher risk–taking, strongman end of the masculinity scale. It can be a problem for both men and women in the workforce where they have not told their colleagues or employers, or where there is a habit of spending time in the pub with mates or colleagues after work. There is some evidence that men, particularly younger men, can find this especially hard going. For some males their self-image can take a battering when they are not being permitted to drive for a certain period until seizures are controlled. Surveys have revealed that some males would rather tell their work mates and friends that they’re “off the road” for drink-driving than admit to having seizures. Being a male brings with it a range of expectations that can make epilepsy an especially hard condition if you allow yourself to be ruled by stereotypes.


Most professional drivers are men, whether they drive trains, taxis, trams, buses or road transports. The farmer on the tractor is more likely to be a man. And indeed one of the rites of passage for many young men is get a licence and to get some wheels. Driving and unpredictable seizures can be a lethal combination.


For older men, it is often the case that they are the only person left in the household who drives, once the children have grown up and moved out. Having epilepsy can mean that both partners have no immediate access to the car that has until now taken them shopping, visiting the kids, and even on holidays.


Those men who play sport, however in truth most men watch rather than play, tend to play more physically aggressive sports than women. There are major sports stars who have epilepsy who compete in some of the toughest sports played, but these guys have their seizures controlled. Without freedom from seizures it is inadvisable to play rough contact sports. Interestingly, head protection gear is increasingly seen as an important element to playing contact sports safely.


Likewise participation in sports like weight lifting or bodybuilding, skydiving, mountain climbing or diving should only occur under well–supervised circumstances.

Being a good provider

For many men the idea of supporting a family is what keeps them going to work; often at jobs for which they don’t particularly care. It’s the idea of being the traditional breadwinner and it’s tied up with notions of male physical strength and the ability to protect those you love. Well the truth is, seizures can threaten this. They can lose you your job. They can cause you to have a serious work injury. They can leave you without an income, at home with the possibility of seizures while your partner is out earning money.

Safety in the Home

Motor mowers and power tools have made many men’s lives a whole lot easier. They have also sliced through feet and fingers. Hammers and chisels, saws and bladed tools, ladders and being the one who climbs onto the roof are all things most men deal with. The advice here is if you could hurt yourself by having a seizure while doing anything with tools then you just have to adapt the activity or pass on it until you know that your seizures aren’t going to happen. Fixing a leak in the roof may be sensible and you may be the only one in the house without a fear of heights, but it’s a heck of a lot harder fixing a broken leg or neck.


It’s true that everyone can get angry at a diagnosis like epilepsy. In fact it’s pretty normal to feel some anger – as well as some anxiety, even depression. It is important to talk about these feelings because they are manageable. The trouble is many men are not so great at dealing with emotions like these. But you can and once you do, you’ll learn that there’s plenty that you can do to improve things.


The one thing you can’t do is try to excuse anger by telling people that they just have to put up with it because you have epilepsy. Anger is a useful emotion but not if you can’t keep a lid on it. Anger, if left unchecked, can do you a great deal of damage. Talk to your doctor or epilepsy counsellor and get through it.
Epilepsy is a serious health condition and being a man doesn’t mean you have to tough it out!


Reprinted from Epifile with permission of Epilepsy Australia Ltd: August 2002