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 April 26, 2005
Two Anticonvulsant Drugs Raise Birth Defect Risk
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Two anticonvulsant drugs -- phenobarbital and valproic acid -- that are widely used to treat people with epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and migraines increase the risk of major birth defects by up to fivefold, according to a new analysis of the drugs.

This is the first time the risk has been quantified, although both drugs do carry warnings that they shouldn't be taken by pregnant women, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The risk analysis was conducted using preliminary data from a North American registry of about 4,000 pregnant women taking the drugs. The results showed major birth defects in 10.7 percent of infants born to women taking valproic acid, compared to a rate of about 6.5 percent among women taking phenobarbital, and 2 percent in the general population.

Among the major birth defects noted in the analysis were cleft palate, heart problems, and kidney and skeletal defects, the Times reported.

But researchers said women shouldn't suddenly top taking the drugs, because that could trigger seizures. They should instead talk to their doctors, who can gradually move them over to a safer anticonvulsant drug.


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