Study Weighs Safety of Epilepsy Drugs in Pregnancy
Levetiracetam appears to pose low risk for baby, but there's more evidence of risk with valproate
By Randy Dotinga
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- There's long been concern that certain drugs taken to control seizures might be unsafe for use by pregnant women, due to potential effects on the fetus.
Now, new British research suggests that the drug levetiracetam does not pose a major risk to the neurological development of the fetus, although there's more evidence that another drug -- valproate -- may cause some problems.
"These results are heartening, as the use of levetiracetam has increased in recent years, but there has been limited information on its effect on the thinking, movement and language abilities of children," study author Rebekah Shallcross of the University of Liverpool said in a news release from the American Academy of Neurology.
"This is the first study to look at the effects of levetiracetam, and further research is needed before we can be certain there are no associations," Shallcross cautioned.
The study of 3- and 4-year-olds tracked 53 children whose mothers took levetiracetam (brand name Keppra), 44 whose mothers took valproate (known by several brand names), and 151 children of mothers who didn't take any drugs during pregnancy.
The researchers examined the children's abilities in areas such as thinking, movement and language.
The children whose mothers took levetiracetam weren't different overall from those whose mothers took no drugs. However, those who took valproate scored lower on tests of movement, expressive language and language comprehension than those who took levetiracetam.
Two experts unconnected to the study said it provided valuable information to women with epilepsy.
"We have known for some time that valproic acid [valproate], when taken during pregnancy, is associated with an increased risk for birth defects," said Dr. Keith Eddleman, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "Due to these increased risks, women with epilepsy who are contemplating pregnancy are more frequently being given levitiracetam -- with very little information available about its effect on the developing fetus."
He said this "study is important in that it is the first significant study to compare levitiracetam to valproic acid and shows that levetiracetam has a lower risk for developmental problems down the road."