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Emory researcher examines effects of antiepileptic drugs on pregnant women and their offspring

Preliminary data show that babies of epileptic mothers who take antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) during pregnancy absorb the medication to substantial degrees in utero, and some of these babies may develop birth defects, other disabilities or even die. Although the majority of children born to mothers with epilepsy are normal, researchers believe some of these babies are at an increased risk for birth defects or developmental delays. The findings of this nationwide study, still preliminary, will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology in San Francisco, CA, on Wednesday, April 28th at 6 p.m. Eastern.

"Newborns of women with epilepsy have a four to seven percent risk of birth defects, compared to the two to three percent risk of the general population, and we think some antiepileptic medications may be to blame," says Page Pennell, MD, associate professor of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA. "While the outcomes are many times positive, a small number of babies born to epileptic mothers who took AEDs during pregnancy have congenital heart defects, neural tube defects (spina bifida) or cleft lip and palate."

Epilepsy is a chronic medical condition produced by temporary changes in the electrical function of the brain, causing seizures that affect awareness, movement, and/or sensation. One percent of the population has epilepsy at any given time. Mothers with epilepsy are three times as likely as non-epileptic women to give birth to children with epilepsy.

Epilepsy can be treated with drugs, surgery or special diets. Of those treatments, antiepileptic drug therapy is the most common and usually the first to be tried on a patient.

In this five-year study, called the Neurodevelopmental Effects of Antiepileptic Drugs (NEAD) study, some of the most commonly prescribed seizure-control drugs are being tested to determine if they have a negative, lasting impact on the developing brains of fetuses when mothers take them while
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Contact: Janet Christenbury
jmchris@emory.edu
404-727-8599
Emory University Health Sciences Center
28-Apr-2004


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