Pregnant women with epilepsy to be supported by new Westmead Hospital saliva test

Expectant mum, Jessica Alves, knows a lot about epilepsy, having lived with it since she was 14 years old.

During her first pregnancy, Jessica suffered a Grand Mal seizure, which results in a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.

Jessica doesn’t experience any warning signs before a seizure occurs and, in the past, has experienced serious physical injuries from her sudden collapses.

“I don’t know when a seizure is coming on which is hard because I can’t get myself somewhere safe,” explained Jessica.

In addition to the serious physical injuries, Jessica said the most frightening thing about the seizures is that “afterwards I am really confused, and I have to be told repeatedly that it’s happened”.

Now Jessica and her husband David are expecting their second child and are aware that it’s more important than ever for seizures to be avoided – and lucky for them, help is on the way!  

Westmead Hospital’s Clinical Pharmacy, with support of Westmead Hospital Foundation, is undertaking world-first research to create a simple and fast saliva test for pregnant women with epilepsy, to ensure their anti-seizure medication is at the right dose to prevent life-threatening seizures.

Until now, frequent blood tests have been the only effective way to monitor the level of anti-seizure medication in pregnant women, and according to professor Johannes Alffenaar, chair of clinical pharmacy at Westmead Hospital, “these blood tests are very expensive and are held for batch testing, meaning it takes between two to three weeks before the results are available”.

It is hoped that this new test system will help people with epilepsy to find a perfectly tailored dose.

Being pregnant as an epileptic person can pose potentially serious risks to both mother and child, for example, a very rare but serious complication of poorly controlled epilepsy during pregnancy is Sudden Unexplained Death with Epilepsy (SUDEP), which can occur with night seizures.

Pregnant women with epilepsy need their anti-seizure dosage reviewed and often increased regularly throughout pregnancy and the “right level of medication is critical”, said specialist neurologist at Westmead Hospital, associate professor Andrew Bleasel.

“Too little medication can cause seizures and potentially life-threatening complications for mother and baby; too much medication creates side-effects including excessive weight gain, poor mental clarity and low energy,” explained Professor Bleasal.

Unsurprisingly, Jessica gives the idea of this simple, safe and fast spit test the thumbs up.

“It would be amazing to get this done at my local pharmacy and have the results in minutes instead of weeks and to know that my dose is right for me to prevent seizures,” she said.

You can help support Jessica and other pregnant women like her by making a meaningful gift to Westmead Hospital’s world-first epilepsy research at Westmead Hospital Foundation here: