WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Women taking the epilepsy drug valproate (Depakote) while pregnant are at increased risk of having children with autism and other developmental problems, according to a small British study.
Valproate is prescribed for epilepsy as well as certain psychiatric disorders and migraines. Other studies have shown its use during pregnancy is associated with birth defects and, more recently, lower IQ in school-age children.
The American Academy of Neurology advises against valproate use during pregnancy, and some experts believe it should not be used by women of childbearing age.
"Women for whom valproate is a treatment option should discuss the risks and benefits of this drug with their doctor prior to pregnancy, to ensure that their health and that of the potential child is optimized," said Rebecca Bromley, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool, who led the new study.
"Planning a pregnancy in collaboration with your doctor is important if you are taking antiepileptic drugs," she added. And evidence suggests the damage to the fetus occurs early in pregnancy, according to the study.
But women should not alter their medication without talking to their doctor, she noted.
For the study, published online Jan. 30 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, Bromley's team collected data on more than 500 pregnant women between 2000 and 2004. About half had epilepsy, of whom all but 34 took medicine to control their seizures.
The drugs they took included carbamazepine (Tegretol), valproate and lamotrigine (Lamictal), the researchers noted.
Of the 415 children for whom data was available, 19 were diagnosed with a developmental problem by age 6 years. Three of them also had a physical handicap.
Twelve of these children had an autism spectrum disorder, an
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