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Seizure Medications

For some women who are expecting, anti-convulsant medications may be necessary in order to avoid seizures that could endanger the unborn baby. However, several recent studies have shown that pregnant women who take certain anti-seizure medications face an increased risk of giving birth to a baby with serious birth defects including:

Birth Defects Linked to Seizure Medications

Depakote (valproic acid): According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1-2% of babies born to mothers who took Depakote during the first trimester of pregnancy developed spina bifida or some other type of spinal canal defect. Also, the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry found that women who took Depakote during pregnancy had four times the increased risk of congenital (present at birth) malformations.

Topamax (topiramate): In March 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a warning regarding the increased risk of birth defects for pregnant women who take Topamax (generic: topiramate). The FDA referenced a report released by the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry, which stated that Topamax increases the risk of oral cleft by four times compared to women taking other antiepileptic drugs. In some cases, the study showed that Topamax users are 20x more likely to give birth to children with oral clefts (cleft lip or cleft palate). The FDA moved the drug to a Pregnancy Category D, which means that there is a significant possibility of harm to the fetus.

Tegretol (carbamazepine): According to a 1989 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, fetal exposure to carbamazepine could interrupt fetal development and congenital malformation. The study observed problems including craniofacial defects, hypoplasia and developmental delay. Another study in the same publication also found a link between carbamazepine and serious birth defects.

Use Caution

The FDA warned that women who are planning on becoming pregnant should also avoid anti-seizure drugs because of the risk of defects, many of which often develop even before the woman knows she is pregnant. Due to the serious nature of the fetal risks as well as the fact that use of the drug could have already injured the baby before the woman realizes she is pregnant, anti-convulsant drug manufacturers have a responsibility to warn female users of all possible risks from the moment they begin taking the drugs. Pharmaceutical companies can do this by ensuring that drug labels reflect all possible side effects and that doctors, patients and the FDA are aware of these risks from the moment they are indicated by research. Talk to your doctor before using these drugs during pregnancy or if you plan to become pregnant.

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