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Sodium valproate and pregnancy - information for parents and carers

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Important information for parents and carers of teenage girls

It may be difficult to have conversations about sexual activity and contraception with your daughter; however, it is important that she understands the risks, so that she can make informed decisions.
We have written a similar leaflet specifically for girls and young women, which we recommend you share with your daughter:

The facts

  • Sodium valproate is a highly effective medicine for the treatment of epilepsy.
  • However, taking sodium valproate during pregnancy carries a high risk of harm to the developing baby (2 out of 5 babies are affected).
  • Contraception is therefore essential to protect against pregnancy.
  • If your daughter thinks she might be pregnant, she should contact her doctor or nurse immediately but continue to take sodium valproate in the meantime to prevent seizures.
  • Sodium valproate is also known as valproic acid and by the brand names Convulex®, Epilim®, Epilim Chrono®, Epilim Chronosphere®, Episenta®, Epival® and Orlept®.

Why is important to avoid pregnancy while taking sodium valproate?

  • Sodium valproate can cause physical harm to a developing baby.
  • The baby may develop spina bifida, in which the spine does not develop properly.
  • The face and skull may not form properly, resulting in cleft lip and palate.
  • The arms and legs, heart, kidneys, urinary tract and sex organs may not develop properly.
  • The baby may also have developmental problems after birth.
  • Their development may be delayed, so that they walk or talk later than would be expected.
  • They may have low intelligence, memory problems, or poor language skills, with difficulty in speaking and understanding.
  • They may have an increased risk of childhood autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Contraception?

  • It is vital that your daughter understands the importance of effective contraception. Your daughter can discuss this with your doctor, epilepsy team, or family planning services. She may prefer to have these conversations in private.
  • She should tell any health professional that she is taking sodium valproate, to get the right advice.
  • Even if your daughter doesn't have periods, she can still become pregnant so it is vital that she uses contraception.

Can my daughter take a different medicine?

  • Several medicines are used to treat epilepsy of different types; however, some of these may also have harmful effects on developing babies.
  • This should be discussed with your healthcare team.

Who to contact for more information

Your daughter’s doctor, epilepsy nurse or pharmacist can provide information about sodium valproate and other medicines used to treat epilepsy.

You can also get useful information from: 
Publication date: 
26/01/2018