Common Epilepsy Drug Taken During Pregnancy Might Raise Spina Bifida Risk

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Pregnant women with epilepsy who are taking carbamazepine (Tegretol) to control seizures may be at a slightly increased risk of having an infant with spina bifida, a new study finds. Spina bifida is a condition in which the bones of the spine do not close but the spinal cord remains in place, usually with skin covering the defect. Most children will need lifelong treatment for problems arising from damage to the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

"For women with epilepsy, seizure control during pregnancy is very important," said lead researcher Lolkje de Jong van den Berg, from the division of pharmacy at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. "Our study can help in decisions regarding whether carbamazepine should be the drug of choice in pregnancy." However, the best option regarding treatment can be chosen only on an individual basis by the woman and her neurologist before pregnancy, weighing the benefits of epilepsy control against the risk of birth defects, de Jong-van den Berg said.

The report is published in the Dec. 3 online edition of the BMJ. For the study, de Jong-van den Berg's team reviewed existing research to determine the risk of birth defects among women taking Tegretol. The researchers found that infants of women taking Tegretol were 2.6 times more likely to have spina bifida, compared with women not taking any anti-epileptic medication.

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