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Newer Epilepsy Meds Less Likely to Cause Birth Defects: Study
Date:5/17/2011

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, May 17 (HealthDay News) -- Newer epilepsy medications don't increase the risk of major birth defects in women taking these drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy, according to new research.

But because the drugs are relatively new, further studies are needed to get a clearer picture of their safety profile, experts said.

In a large study of children born in Denmark, including those exposed to newer anti-epileptic drugs, researchers found the rate of major birth defects was 3.2 percent for babies born to women taking the epilepsy medications and 2.4 percent for women not taking these drugs.

"In a nationwide Danish study of more than 800,000 births, we found no support for an increased risk of birth defects following use of newer generation anti-epileptics in early pregnancy," said the study's lead author, Ditte Molgaard-Nielsen, an epidemiologist at Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

"Pregnant women and women planning pregnancy can be reassured that our study and current knowledge of the safety of newer generation anti-epileptics does not provide cause for concern with respect to birth defect risk," she added.

Results of the study were published in the May 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Between 0.2 percent and 0.5 percent of pregnant women take anti-epileptic medications during pregnancy, according to background information in the study. Most women who take these medications do so to control seizures, but sometimes the drugs are prescribed for bipolar mood disorders, migraines and nerve pain disorders, the study authors noted.

When used during pregnancy, older epilepsy medications -- such as phenobarbital, phenytoin, valproate and carbamazepine -- have been linked to as much as a three-fold higher risk of birth defects, according to the study.

The difficulty in managing women with epileps
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