Primary healthcare news, information & resources

Benefits and risks of taking antiepileptic medicines during pregnancy

ACC, the Ministry of Health, the Health Quality & Safety Commission and Foetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome New Zealand (FACS NZ) are encouraging health professionals to discuss the benefits and risks of taking antiepileptic medicine during pregnancy with their female patients who are sexually active. Much of the harm can occur in early stages of pregnancy, before women are even aware they're pregnant. 

The benefits and risks during pregnancy are known. However, there has been less reduction in prescribing, especially of sodium valproate for women of child-bearing age than was hoped.

Parents of female children with epilepsy also need to know that their children should not be prescribed sodium valproate unless nothing else works. 

The risks of the medicine can only be reduced by decreasing the dose or changing the medicine, but this must be balanced against the risk to the woman, especially if they have epilepsy. If there is a loss of seizure control, this can have a negative effect on the unborn child, including hypoxia or miscarriage. It can also mean a significant deterioration in the quality of life for the mother and substantially increase her risk of death. 

To assist with these conversations, booklets have been created for distribution to health professionals and female patients. For more information, view online versions of the booklets and to order free copies, visit the ACC website.

For more information please contact ACC senior injury prevention specialist, treatment safety Dee Young:

Latest Clinical Resources