Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Epilepsy Health Center

Font Size

Panel: Avoid Epilepsy Drug in Pregnancy

New Guidelines Urge Pregnant Women to Avoid Taking Valproate Because of Risk of Birth Defects
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 27, 2009 (Seattle) -- Women with epilepsy should avoid taking the drug valproate (Depakote) during pregnancy if possible, according to new guidelines developed by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and the American Epilepsy Society.

"There is good evidence that valproate, whether used by itself or in combination with other medications, increases the risk of major birth defects, including cleft palate and spinal bifida," says guideline co-author Gary S. Gronseth, MD, vice chairman of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.

Additionally, taking valproate during pregnancy has been linked to lower IQs in children, he tells WebMD.

The guidelines come on the heels of a study showing that women with epilepsy who took valproate during pregnancy gave birth to children whose IQ at age 3 averaged up to 9 points lower than the scores of children exposed to other epilepsy drugs.

In response to the guidelines, a spokesperson for Abbott, which makes valproate, said the drug may be the only effective medication for some women, but doctors and patients should discuss risks and benefits of treatment.

Pregnant women may also want to avoid taking the seizure drugs phenytoin (Dilantin) and phenobarbital, as they too have been linked to lower IQs in children, Gronseth says.

Epilepsy and Pregnancy

Gronseth and other panel members stress that pregnancy is safe for most women with epilepsy.

"Overall, what we found was very reassuring to woman with epilepsy planning to become pregnant," says lead guideline author Cynthia Harden, MD, director of the epilepsy division at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine.

"Contrary to previous dogma, women with epilepsy are not at a substantially increased risk of having a cesarean section, late pregnancy bleeding, or premature contractions or premature labor and delivery," she says.

Also, if a woman is seizure-free for nine months to one year before she becomes pregnant, it's likely that she will not have any seizures during the pregnancy -- even if she switches medications, Harden tells WebMD.

About 500,000 women of childbearing age in the U.S. have some form of epilepsy, which is characterized by brief disturbances of electrical activity in the brain, according to Harden. Three to five out of every 1,000 births are to women with epilepsy.

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

human head and brain waves
Causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Grand mal seizure
How is each one different?
marijuana plant
CBD, a plant chemical, may cut down seizures.
prescription bottle
Which medication is right for you?
Seizures Driving
Questions for Doctor Epilepsy
Graces Magic Diet
Pills spilling from bottle in front of clock
first aid kit
Caring Child Epilepsy
Making Home Safe
epilepsy monitoring

WebMD Special Sections