Epilepsy Drugs Linked to Birth Defects

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New Study Says Epilepsy Drugs May Increase The Risk of Birth Defects

A new study published in Neurology links different drugs designed to control epileptic seizures to an increased risk of birth defects. While the medicines, valproic acid and topiramate are prescribed to women who have epileptic seizures, they are also prescribed to patients who have migraine headaches, bipolar disorder, and certain pain issues. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder among Americans, and about 3.4-million people currently suffer from epilepsy. The number of patients who could be using these medications grows significantly when we consider that they also have been prescribed for even more common conditions like migraines.

Anti-epilepsy drugs like the ones analyzed in the recent study are increasingly being prescribed for conditions that are not related to epilepsy. In total, researchers predict that about 2% of pregnant women in the U.S. currently use anti-epilepsy drugs. Those women could be at risk of giving birth to an infant with birth defects.

The researchers analyzed data of live births that took place between January 2011 and March 2015, totaling 1,886,825 distinct pregnancies. They investigated the use of 10 different anti-seizure drugs made up of the medications mentioned above, looking at pregnant women’s usage both prior to conception and during the pregnancy. As part of the study, the researchers examined possible links between the use of those 10 anti-seizure prescription drugs and 23 different birth defects.

Ultimately, the study showed that women using drugs containing valproic acid and topiramate have a much higher risk of giving birth to an infant with a serious birth defect. More than 10% of the pregnant women in the study had been prescribed valproic acid, and they had a risk 19 times greater than women not on the drug of having a baby born with spina bifida. 

The drug also increased the risk of cleft palate, heart defects, and other types of birth defects. Women who were prescribed topiramate had an increased risk (by seven times compared to women who were not using an anti-epilepsy drug) of having a baby born with cleft lip. Other anti-epilepsy drugs studied did not show an increased risk of birth defects.

Learning More About Birth Defects

The following are facts and figures about birth defects from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Birth defects affect approximately 1 out of every 33 babies in the U.S. each year (or about 3%);
  • Birth defects account for 20% of all infant deaths in the U.S.;
  • Birth defects currently are the leading cause of infant deaths;
  • Orofacial defects are the second-most common birth defects in the U.S., with cleft lip with or without cleft palate occurring in 1 out of every 940 births, or a total of approximately 4,437 births each year; and
  • Other common birth defects include neural tube defects (like anencephaly and spina bifida), cardiovascular defects (like atrioventricular septal defect), gastrointestinal defects, and musculoskeletal defects (such as reduction deformity)

If your baby was born with a birth defect, contact a birth defect attorney to determine your rights.

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