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Comment on the safety of sodium valproate in women of child bearing potential

Updated Friday 22 February 2013

Epilepsy Action believes that sodium valproate should not be the first-line treatment for epilepsy in women of child bearing potential, or in girls who will need treatment into their child bearing years. This is due to the significantly higher risk of birth malformations associated with this epilepsy medicine.

Epilepsy Action believes that for some women, sodium valproate at the lowest effective dose will be the most appropriate medicine to use. For example when:

  • a suitable alternative treatment is not available,
  • alternative medicines fail to establish seizure control,
  • treatment with others medicines was associated with significant side effects ,
  • the risk of uncontrolled seizures outweighs the potential teratogenic risks,
  • the woman opts for treatment with sodium valproate after discussing all the risks and benefits, and after being counselled about contraception, conception and pregnancy.

Pregnant women who are already taking sodium valproate should continue to take their medicine as normal and seek advice from their specialist. Sudden reduction or withdrawal of epilepsy medicine can lead to uncontrolled seizures (increasing the risk of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy – SUDEP). Furthermore, because the unborn baby has already been exposed to sodium valproate, abandoning medication might not reduce the risk posed to the unborn baby.

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