Skip to main content
- Smaller Text | + Larger Text

Understanding the Female Brain

  • Synopsis: Published: 2013-02-18 (Rev. 2013-02-19) - Northwestern Medicine Womens Neurology Center is a program serving women and advancing research in neurological conditions facing women. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Epilepsy
Epilepsy - A brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that cause changes in attention or behavior. There are different types of epilepsy and seizures. Epilepsy drugs are prescribed to control seizures, and rarely surgery is necessary if medications are ineffective.

Main Document

"Neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, can be more challenging to treat in women because of hormones and reproductive issues."

Women's Neurology Center focuses on gender specific care and research for neurological issues.

First diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 17 years old, Ann O'Shea experienced one to two seizures a year before getting her condition under control with a medication called lamotrigine. When she decided to go on birth control at age 22, very little was explained to her about the impact it could have on her epilepsy medication. Within two months, O'Shea had three seizures - far more than what she had experienced in the past. Recognizing that there may be a connection, O'Shea turned to the Internet for research and found information about how birth control pills could decrease the efficacy the medication she was taking to control seizures. Concerned that this had not been caught by her doctors, she decided it was time to find a specialist who would not only care for her epilepsy, but could also help her plan for the future. That's how she found the Northwestern Medicine® Women's Neurology Center, a program dedicated to better serving women at all stages of life and to advancing research in neurological conditions facing women.

"Neurological conditions, such as epilepsy, can be more challenging to treat in women because of hormones and reproductive issues," said Elizabeth E. Gerard, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "More research is needed to understand how neurological conditions affect women compared to men so that we can more effectively treat our female patients."

While the Women's Neurology Center is one of only a small number of women-focused neurology programs in the country, recent research indicates that gender plays a significant role in neurological conditions:

  • Twenty percent of women suffer from migraines
  • Sleep disorders in women are often overlooked by primary care physicians
  • Hormones affect seizure frequency in 30 percent of women with epilepsy
  • Women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis
  • Medications used to treat neurological disorders may have significant impact on pregnancy and contraception effectiveness
  • Stroke mortality is higher in women, although 30 percent of women are unaware of their stroke risk factors

The center offers patients treatment from sub-specialist neurologists with expertise in epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, migraine, headaches, dizziness, and sleep disorders. With an emphasis on incorporating an integrated medicine approach to patient care versus one based solely on pharmacology, the center also addresses reproductive health and issues related to women's hormones. Along with patient care, research will be a strong component of the Women's Neurology Center.

"We're excited to work with this very unique population that hasn't really been studied in depth," said Yvonne M. Curran, MD, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor in neurology at the Feinberg School. "Women's health has been an under-appreciated field, but that is changing and patients who choose to come to this center will be helping to move this field forward."

For O'Shea, finding the right physician was exactly what she needed to get her epilepsy back in order.

"My epilepsy has never been so severe that I needed daily attention from a doctor what I was really seeking was someone who can counsel me in the next steps of my life, like contraception and family planning," explained O'Shea, who is now 24 years old and resides in Chicago. "Since I started seeing Dr. Gerard, I haven't had another seizure. She makes me comfortable and gives me the information I need to make decisions about my health. In the past, doctors have made me feel scared or worried, but she makes me feel like I will be able to lead a completely normal life. I really feel like we're the perfect patient-doctor match."

O'Shea's story is a prime example of what the center seeks to do for women - not only managing their condition, but also providing counsel during different stages in their life and addressing how it may impact their neurological health. "When a woman is diagnosed with a neurological condition, we need to take her through issues related to contraception, hormones, pregnancy and menopause," said Gerard. "This takes extra time and experience that our center is prepared to handle. Younger women need to be educated about how their neurological condition will affect pregnancy and contraceptive choices. Mature women need to be especially cognizant of how their symptoms may change during menopause."

The Women's Neurology Center is staffed by the following Northwestern Medicine specialists:

Hrayr P. Attarian, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and associate professor at the Feinberg School (sleep disorders); Yvonne M. Curran, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor at the Feinberg School (migraine and stroke); Joy A. Derwenskus, DO, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor at the Feinberg School (multiple sclerosis); Elizabeth E. Gerard, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and assistant professor at the Feinberg School (epilepsy); Ramadevi Gourineni, MD, neurologist at Northwestern Memorial and associate professor at the Feinberg School (sleep disorders); and Jack M. Rozental, MD, Ph.D., interim chair of neurology at Northwestern Memorial and the Feinberg School (headaches and dizziness).

Northwestern Medicine is the shared vision that joins Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in a collaborative effort to transform medicine through quality healthcare, academic excellence and scientific discovery.

To make an appointment or learn more, call 312-695-1962.

About Northwestern Memorial HealthCare - Northwestern Memorial HealthCare is the parent corporation of Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an 894-bed academic medical center hospital and Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, a 201-bed community hospital located in Lake Forest, Illinois.

About Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Northwestern Memorial is one of the country's premier academic medical center hospitals and is the primary teaching hospital of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Along with its Prentice Women's Hospital and Stone Institute of Psychiatry, the hospital has 1,705 affiliated physicians and 6,769 employees. Northwestern Memorial is recognized for providing exemplary patient care and state-of-the art advancements in the areas of cardiovascular care; women's health; oncology; neurology and neurosurgery; solid organ and soft tissue transplants and orthopaedics.

Northwestern Memorial has nursing Magnet Status, the nation's highest recognition for patient care and nursing excellence. And, Northwestern Memorial ranks 12th in the nation in the U.S. News & World Report 2012 Honor Roll of "America's Best Hospitals." The hospital is ranked in 12 of 16 clinical specialties rated by U.S. News and is No. 1 in Illinois and Chicago in U.S. News' 2012 state and metro rankings, respectively. For 12 years running, Northwestern Memorial has been rated among the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" guide by Working Mother magazine. The hospital is a recipient of the prestigious National Quality Health Care Award and has been chosen by Chicagoans as the Consumer Choice according to the National Research Corporation's annual survey for 13 years.



Related Information:

  1. Improving Lives of People with Epilepsy - Report highlights gaps in knowledge and management of epilepsy recommending action for improving lives of those with epilepsy and promoting better understanding of the disorder - (Published 2012-04-03).
  2. New Mothers Grew Bigger Brains Within Months of Giving Birth - Warmer feelings toward babies linked to new mothers growing bigger brains within months of giving birth - (Published 2010-10-20).
  3. Human Brain Facts and Answers - Questions answers and facts relating to the human brain and the study of the brain organ including the spinal cord.

Information from our Neurological Disorders: Types, Research & Treatment section - (Full List).


     What will I receive?

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be. Also see information on blood group types and compatibility.


  1. Protein 3 Times Daily May Make Seniors Stronger
  2. Surgeons Practice Brain Surgery on 3D Printed Brain Models
  3. Comparison of Drug Cost Variation Between Drug Plans
  4. CP Awareness: World Cerebral Palsy Day Friday 6th October 2017




Citation