Campaign highlights anti-epilepsy challenge in pregnancy

Press Release – Accident Compensation Corporation

Campaign highlights anti-epilepsy challenge for pregnant women

A new awareness campaign is highlighting the importance of women talking to their doctor about the pros and cons of taking anti-epileptic medicine during pregnancy.

Anti-convulsant medicines taken during pregnancy for epilepsy, mood regulation, or pain management can cause congenital malformations and learning problems. However there can be significant health risks for expectant mothers in not taking their medication.

This apparent Catch-22 situation is the focus of a campaign being launched at the Auckland DHB on Thursday(23 November) by ACC, the Ministry of Health, the Health Quality & Safety Commission, and Foetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome New Zealand (FACS NZ).

“We need to drive home the critical message that women who take anti-convulsant medication need to discuss the risks and benefits with their doctor, even if they aren’t actively planning on getting pregnant,” says ACC’s Chief Clinical Adviser Dr Peter Robinson.

“There is a very delicate balance that needs to be struck.

“The harm caused by these medicines happens in the very early stages of pregnancy, often before you are aware you are pregnant, so it is important women know the potential risks and can plan accordingly. But it is equally important that women do not reduce, or stop taking, their medicine without speaking to their medical practitioner first, even if they think they are pregnant.
“The foetal risks can only be reduced by decreasing the dose or changing the medicine, but this must be balanced against the risk to the mother, especially if they have epilepsy as seizures can be life-threatening when not controlled by medication.”

PHARMAC dispensing data indicates that 28,536 women of childbearing age took anti-epileptic medication in 2016.

Dr Robinson said that while all anti-epileptic medicine carried risk, sodium valproate carried the greatest risk with a reported rate of congenital malformations of up to 24 per cent for babies exposed to doses greater than 1500mg per day, compared with two to three per cent in the general population.

Children born to mothers taking doses of sodium valproate greater than 800mg a day in pregnancy have an average decrease in IQ of seven to ten points, and are eight times more likely to require educational intervention when they are six-years-old.

To help with these conversations, two booklets have been created, one for health professionals and one for their female patients www.acc.co.nz/treatmentsafety.

ENDS

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