Mother and Baby

Survey shows epilepsy drug warnings are not reaching pregnant women

Pregnant woman

Sodium Valproate is a drug most commonly prescribed for both epilepsy and bipolar disorder in the UK and has been shown to provide considerable relief to those affected by the conditions. However, there are grave concerns over the significant foetal risks it poses when being prescribed to women of childbearing age. There are currently 28,000 women taking Sodium Valproate, known as Epilim, almost 70% of which are reported to be completely unaware of the dangers it could pose for their unborn child.

What are the risks?

Statistics show that babies exposed to the drug in the womb have a 40% chance of developing severe learning disabilities and/or autism, whilst there is a 10% chance they could be physically disabled. 20,000 children have been harmed by valproate medicines in the UK since the 1970s.

According to a survey commissioned by Epilepsy Society, 68% of women taking the drug had not been briefed by a GP as to the pregnancy warnings. This is despite the fact that a Valproate Toolkit was launched in February 2016 , containing up-to-date information on the risks of neuro-veleopmental disorders in children of women who were taking the drug.

The NHS warns: ‘research has show that there may be an increased risk of foetal anti-convulsant syndrome (FACS) in children born to mothers who have taken some AEDs during pregnancy.’ 

One mum, Natasha Mason, spoke to the BBC about her three year old son Alfie who has only just learned to walk and has been severely affected by the drug. She describes her panic when speaking to a paediatrician, when her son was 10 months old, as he informed her that her child may have Foetal Valproate Syndrome due to her taking the drug throughout the pregnancy.

What is being done about it?

Epilepsy Society, are campaigning to make more women aware of the dangers associated with the drug. They are calling for Jeremy Hunt to make face-to-face GP consultations mandatory before issuing the drug in the first place, and further consultations before any repeat prescriptions are given. They are to present the results of their survey to the European Medicines Agency next week.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs explains that epilepsy can be a potentially fatal condition during pregnancy because the immune system is so low. Therefore, preventing major fits is very important. Although this is why the drug is so widely circulated, healthcare professionals are now saying that sodium valproate should not be prescribed as a first port of call to pregnant women.

If you are worried about this or any other prescribed medications during pregnancy, contact your GP. Remember, if you are pregnant, or planning on getting pregnant and are taking sodium valproate, you should not stop taking your medication. See your specialist or GP immediately to discuss your treatment. 

  • Author: Maeve Campbell

Related Content