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Birth Defects Common Following Epilepsy Drug

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, June 10, 2010 12:19 PM EST
Category: Protecting Your Family
Tags: Seizures, Epilepsy, Birth Defects, Valproic Acid, Depakote, Bipolar Disorder, Children's Health

Valproic Acid


IMAGE SOURCE: ©iStockphoto/ little girl writing/ author: peeterv

Valproic acid is prescribed to control seizures of epilepsy but for pregnant women the drug can cause birth defects if taken in the first trimester.

The findings are newly published in the June 10 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Valproic acid is also known by its brand name Depakote, Depakene, Depacon, and Stavzor and is used to treat bipolar disorder and migraines. There are other alternative medications also used by the almost three million people in the U.S. with epilepsy.

The research was done at the University of Groningen in Groningen, Netherlands. Researcher, Janneke Jentink, says the findings support the American Academy of Neurology recommendation to avoid using valproic acid in pregnant women.

“Since switching drugs during or just before pregnancy is difficult, the risks associated with valproic acid use should be routinely considered in choosing therapy for women with childbearing potential” she says to Web MD.

In doing the research, data from eight studies was gathered that found 14 common birth defects associated with the epilepsy drug. That group was compared to another group of infants whose mothers did not use the drug.

Research found six birth defects are linked to valproic acid and include:

  1. Spina bifida
  2. Atrial septal defect (a hole in the heart)
  3. Cleft palate
  4. Hypospadias (an abnormality in the opening of the urethra in boys)
  5. Polydactyly (extra fingers or toes)
  6. Craniosynostosis (one or more sutures on an infant’s skull close prematurely)

Only the last defect, craniosynostosis was not found linked to valproic acid. The researchers did not look at the doses of valproic acid used during pregnancy. Since half of all pregnancies are unplanned and a woman not know she is pregnant until during or after the first trimester, the conversation about this drug needs to take place as soon as a girl reaches reproductive age.

Depakote is made by Abbott Laboratories in Abbott Park, Illinois and the label of Depakote (valproic acid) includes the risk of birth defects. #

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