Women who suffer from epilepsy often take anti-epileptic medications throughout their pregnancy. Most anti-epileptic drugs are linked to some increased risk of fetal defect, but the defects are uncommon in most cases.  Carbamazepine is an anti-epileptic medication used to treat epilepsy. In some cases, women choose to abort the pregnancy after finding out the fetus has this condition; more reason to find a solid link and choose other medications that do not carry the same fetal risk.

The study involved reviewing medical literature collected from women taking anti-epileptic medications during pregnancy. The only foreseeable connection was spina bifida. Women who took Carbamazepine during pregnancy (the first trimester) increased the risk of the fetus developing spina bifida 2.6 times. Valproic acid carries an even higher risk than Carbamazepine, researchers reported. Researchers indicated that taking Carbamazepine during the first trimester increased risk of defect 3.3%.

Valproic acid was part of an earlier study which found significant risk to the fetus if the drug was taken during pregnancy. In addition to the 6 fold increased risk of spina bifida; infants were also at high risk of developing hypospadias. Hypospadias results in a malformation of the urinary system in male children.

Researchers are suggesting women use Valproic acid only in cases where no other anti-epileptic medication will work. The same consideration could be suggested for Carbamazepine in the future. Carbamazepine is one of the most commonly used medications to treat the effects of epilepsy.

Source: Janneke Jentink, Helen Dolk, Maria A Loane, Joan K Morris, Diana Wellesley, Ester Garne, Lolkje de Jong-van den Berg. British Medical Journal. 27 September, 2010.