Epilepsy Drug Linked to Lower IQ
Birth Defects Also Greater in Children Born to Women Taking Valproates
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Researchers also found that women who had frequent tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures in pregnancy were also significantly more likely to have children with a lower IQ.
Folic Acid May Help Counter Epilepsy Drug Effect
Chadwick and colleagues acknowledged the potential for problems in their findings, and in an accompanying editorial neurologist Simon Shorvon, MD, also urged caution in interpreting them. But he added that women of childbearing years who have epilepsy should be counseled about the potential risks associated with the epilepsy drug valproate.
"The problem is that this is the only drug that works for some types of seizures, so it is not as simple as just switching to another medication," Shorvon tells WebMD. "While the news about valproate is disturbing, it is not absolutely conclusive. Right now all we can do is inform women fully about these studies and their inadequacies."
Diego Wyszynski, MD, PhD, who headed the Boston University research team, tells WebMD that taking large amounts of folic acid may help women who take valproate protect their unborn children from birth defects. He recommends that all women of childbearing age who take the epilepsy drug also take 10 times the recommended daily dose of folic acid -- 0.4 milligrams instead of 400 micrograms.
But he says there is little evidence to support the idea that taking mega doses of folic acid helps protect against the IQ impairment and other developmental delays reported by Chadwick and colleagues.
"If a woman can switch to another drug and control her seizures it might make sense to do so at any time during pregnancy," he says. "The potential damage in terms of malformations occurs early in pregnancy, but this may not be the case with IQ."