I.Q. Harmed by Epilepsy Drug in Utero

From The New York Times:

Pregnant women who took a popular epilepsy drug, also widely used to treat migraines, pain and psychiatric disorders, had children whose I.Q. scores were significantly lower than those whose mothers took a different antiseizure medication, a new study has found.

The drug, valproate, sold generically and under the brand name Depakote, remains the second-most-popular antiseizure medication used for epilepsy, but earlier studies found that use during pregnancy also increased the risk of developmental delays and major malformations.

The risks that other epilepsy drugs may pose are not clear, experts say. While some are likely to be safer than others, there have not been enough studies to guide patients and their doctors. About half of the women who take valproate are not epileptics.

The new study is to be published on Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Three-year-olds whose mothers had taken valproate during pregnancy had I.Q. scores that were nine points lower on average than children whose mothers had taken a different antiseizure medication, lamotrigine. The I.Q. scores of toddlers whose mothers took valproate were also lower than scores of children whose mothers took two other antiseizure medications, phenytoin and carbamazepine.

Physicians involved in the study warned that valproate should never be the first choice for use in women of childbearing age, though exceptions may be made if a woman’s epileptic seizures cannot be controlled with other available medications.

Some 13,000 to 21,000 babies each year are born to women with epilepsy, and the vast majority are healthy, researchers and advocates emphasized.

Experts warned that women should not stop taking valproate without talking to their doctors.

“It’s important to stress to readers that if they become frightened, they should not simply stop taking the drug, because that can be even more dangerous,” said Eric Hargis, president of the Epilepsy Foundation in Washington.

Posted: 4/16/2009 11:51:00 AM

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