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Seizure Medication Linked to Birth Defects

Problems More Common in Children of Women Taking Depakote
WebMD Health News

April 29, 2004 - Children born to women taking the commonly prescribed seizure medication Depakote are more likely to have birth defects and other problems. Researchers say that if possible women should avoid taking this medication during their childbearing years.

In the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, researchers showed these problems were more common when women took Depakote during pregnancy compared with women who took the newer drug Lamictal.

Death of the fetus, birth defects, and developmental delays, such as walking and speech delays, occurred in 28% of children whose mothers took Depakote compared with just 2% of children whose mothers took Lamictal.

Similar problems were also seen with the use of other seizure medications during pregnancy. Among these other medications, 10% of children whose mothers took Tegretol and 7% of children born to mothers who took Dilantin experienced such problems.

The oldest children in the study are now 2 ½, and researcher Page Pennell, MD, of Atlanta's Emory University School of Medicine, says they need to be followed for several more years to determine if developmental differences persist.

Evidence Mounting

Pennell says most women who take seizure medication for epilepsy need to stay on the drugs during pregnancy because uncontrolled seizures during pregnancy can cause miscarriages.

The conventional wisdom has been that taking seizure medication doubles a woman's risk of having a child with birth defects. But Pennell says it is becoming clear that certain seizure medications carry a higher risk of birth defects than others.

"The evidence against the use of [Depakote] by women during pregnancy is mounting, but the message has not gotten out," Pennell says. "This drug is being increasingly prescribed for other conditions like migraines, bipolar disorder, and mood disorders."

Pennell and colleagues presented data from the five-year study a year early, she says, because the findings were so striking. -->

A spokeswoman for Depakote manufacturer Abbott Laboratories tells WebMD that the fact that only 25 women in the study took the drug could easily have distorted the findings.

"[Depakote] has been around for more than 20 years, and more than 3 million people have been treated," says Laureen Cassidy. "Untreated epilepsy has potentially serious or fatal consequences for both the mother and the child."

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