Mum not warned of epilepsy drug’s risk to unborn children

A young mum from Southport says her two children were born with disabilities because of the epilepsy drug sodium valproate .

Antonia Rimmer had to give up her job as a nurse because of her children’s health problems.

She’d been prescribed a brand called Epilim from the age of 13 and continued to take the drug during both pregnancies. She says she was never told it could cause any harm to her babies.

Charities are calling on the Health Secretary to take action to prevent “heartbreaking” cases of children born with “an avoidable disability” as a result of taking the drug sodium valproate while pregnant.

They say women should get a face-to-face appointment once a year to ensure they are aware of the risks.

One in 10 babies born to mothers who are taking the drug are born with birth defects such as spina bifida.

And between 30% and 40% can experience delays in early development such as walking and talking, have poor intellectual abilities and language skills and memory problems, according to the Epilepsy Society.

But over a third of women who have epilepsy were unaware of the risks, according to a poll of 2,000 carried out for the UK’s three leading epilepsy charities – Epilepsy Society, Young Epilepsy and Epilepsy Action.

Women with epilepsy who did not know that sodium valproateare can affect an unborn child.

Epilim is prescribed to people with epilepsy

It is important women don’t stop taking valproate without first discussing it with their doctor.

The decision to use any medicine in pregnancy requires a careful evaluation of the benefits and risks to both the woman and to her unborn child. When considering the known risks of valproate, it is important to remember that untreated epilepsy and bipolar disorder can also carry serious risks.

As with all medicines the safety of valproate in pregnancy has been kept under constant review and as new data have become available, the warnings have been updated.

It is vital women and girls have the latest information about the risks of developmental disorders and birth defects in children exposed to valproate during pregnancy. We want to support healthcare professionals to give that advice which is why we have supported the creation of the valproate toolkit.

“We continue to work closely and collaboratively with professional bodies, health system organisations and patient and campaign groups to raise awareness of the toolkit and the risks associated with taking valproate medicines during pregnancy. We are reviewing the effectiveness in the UK of the measures taken to date and actively contributing to the ongoing European-wide review.” – MEDICINES AND HEALTHCARE PRODUCTS REGULATORY AGENCY STATEMENT

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