Pregnant women who take the epilepsy drug valproate, also known by the brand name Depacon, may increase the risk of childhood autism and its spectrum disorders in their unborn babies, a new study suggests.
Depacon is used to treat epileptic seizures and mania associated with bipolar disorder, as well as to prevent migraines. The drug already has a black box warning for increasing the risk of serious birth defects in fetuses exposed in utero.
The drug’s warning label urges women of childbearing age to weigh the benefits of valporate against the risk of fetal injury, such as neural tube defects including spina bifida. The American Academy of Neurology also recommends the drug be avoided during pregnancy whenever possible due to the serious risks it poses to fetuses.
Approximately half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and many women become pregnant while on medications that can be harmful to developing fetuses. Thus many drugs, including valproate, are discouraged in women of childbearing age .
The new study, published in the April 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found valproate exposure in utero is associated with a three-fold increased risk for autism spectrum disorders.
The findings add more weight to whether the drug should be used in women with childbearing potential. However, researchers say, “because autism spectrum disorders are serious conditions with lifelong implications for affected children and their families, even a moderate increase in risk may have major health importance.”
Researchers say the added risk for autism should be included when doctors talk with their patients about the risks associated with valproate, especially with patients who have the potential of becoming pregnant.
Source: MedPage Today