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Making sure women are aware of the risks around valproate during pregnancy

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Nicola Swanborough

Making sure women are aware of risks around valproate in pregnancy

Two new initiatives have been launched to help ensure that all women with epilepsy, of child-bearing age, are aware of the risks associated with the medication valproate, during pregnancy.

A letter has been sent by NHS England and Improvement, to all women and girls aged 12-55 who are currently taking valproate, to remind them of the safety considerations including contraception, pregnancy and regular reviews.

Letter to women ages 12-55 who are taking valproate.

And a new case study discussing the risks associated with the drug has been developed by the General Medical Council as essential learning material for healthcare professionals. 

Case study.

Valproate risk

Both initiatives follow the revised prescribing practices around valproate which carries a significant risk of physical or neurodevelopmental problems for babies exposed to it during pregnancy. Up to 10 per cent of babies are born with physical disabilities and up to 40 per cent with neurodevelopmental problems.

Valproate can no longer be prescribed to women of childbearing age with epilepsy, unless they are taking an effective contraceptive and have signed a risk acknowledgement form. 

Complex situations

The General Medical Council case study – featuring fictional characters but based on real-life experiences – aims to support doctors, specialists and pharmacists, with some of the complex situations and difficult conversations that can arise for women who have been taking valproate for some years and may be unaware of the risks.

It has been developed in collaboration with the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

The General Medical Council also highlights Epilepsy Society’s ‘Safe Mum, Safe Baby’ campaign which is calling on the government to fund vital research into safer epilepsy medications that will mean babies are no longer born with preventable disabilities caused by their mothers’ epilepsy drugs.

Please sign our petition

WARNING: No woman should stop taking her epilepsy medication without consulting her doctor. Seizures are dangerous for all women and during pregnancy can harm both mother and baby.