Nearly 50% of women do not know that taking sodium valproate, a common medication for epilepsy, can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy, a survey by three epilepsy charities has found.
The survey of 2788 women aged between 16 and 50, conducted by Epilepsy Action, Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy, found that 48% of women were unaware of the risks. A further 20% women taking the drug do not know it can harm the development and physical health of their unborn child.
‘The majority of women with epilepsy enjoy healthy pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies,’ said professor Ley Sander, medical director of Epilepsy Society and professor of neurology at University College London Institute of Neurology. ‘However, these figures highlight a pressing need for women to have the right information about all aspects of pregnancy and the risks linked with sodium valproate.’
In women who take valproate while pregnant, about 30 – 40 children in every 100 may have developmental problems. These issues can include being late in learning to walk and talk, lower intelligence than other children of the same age, and memory problems.
Children exposed to valproate in the womb are more likely to have autism or autistic spectrum disorders. According to the MHRA, there is also some evidence children may be more likely to be at risk of developing symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
‘The MHRA strengthened the warnings last year on the risks of sodium valproate in pregnancy,’ added Professor Sander. ‘Pre-conception counselling is essential to ensure women and girls with epilepsy are fully informed of the risks associated with pregnancy. These include the possibility of developmental disorders and birth defects in babies exposed to sodium valproate during pregnancy.’