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Phenobarbital "increases birth defect risk"

26 May 2004

Researchers from the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry have reported that exposure to the anti-epileptic drug (AED) phenobarbital significantly increases the risk of birth defects in children born to women with epilepsy.

Of around 3,000 pregnant women with epilepsy who enrolled in the Registry between 1997 and 2002, 77 were taking phenobarbital. Five women (6.5 per cent) gave birth to a child with 'a major malformation', according to the report in the journal Archives of Neurology. This rate was four times higher than the rate of birth defects in the general population, which is 1.62 per cent.

Dr Lewis B Holmes from the Genetics and Teratology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital told Reuters Health:

"Phenobarbital had been on the market since 1912 and many doctors assumed it was safe. Within the past ten years several studies suggested that exposure to phenobarbital posed a serious risk. The AED Pregnancy Registry... confirmed this high risk."

The researchers added that there was some evidence that exposure to phenobarbital cause also affect intelligence and commented that other studies were being undertaken to investigate this.

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In 1947 my mothet took phenabarbitol while carrying me. As an adult I went to college and achieved a Masters Degree in Education, and became a Professor. Plus married & had children. However, I wonder what side effects kids have from this medication! Could I have had a higher IQ? I know I'm not the best in math and my social skills, according to my daughter are not the grestest! What would the side effects be? A doctor told me years ago that it was more important my mother did not have a seisure while carrying me. Whats important is my kids are married & have kids of their own & everyone is doing well. My mother's sister was a nurse & they had mother checked out thouroughly for seisures she had in highschool. The doctor said maybe it was a fall to her head as a kid. They could not find out why this happened to her. It ruined her life as she dropped out of school due to seisures in the classroom that were embarrassing for her. She wanted to become a Nurse like her oldest sister. If only she knew her grandaughter is a Nurse today on the frontline!

Submitted by Chaya Fuerst on