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Published: 25 February 2013

Mums-to-be urged to join epilepsy register

A leading neurologist is calling on GPs to encourage mums-to-be with epilepsy to sign up to a central pregnancy register to guard against birth defects. The call comes in the wake of latest publicity around the anti–epileptic drug sodium valproate which has been associated with birth defects, developmental delay and autism.

Professor Ley Sander, medical director at UK charity Epilepsy Society said:  'The UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy register was set up several years ago to monitor the effect of anti-epileptic drugs on the unborn child. Registration isn’t mandatory  - it’s up to mums to register themselves. But the problem is that not enough GPs are aware of the register or encouraging mums to sign up.'

It is estimated that only around 30 per cent of pregnant women with epilepsy actually sign up – because they are not made aware of the register.

Professor Sander said:  'Sodium valproate is one of the oldest epilepsy drugs around – but it’s only in the last 10 years that we have become aware of the long term effects it can have on the unborn child. In the last 10 or 15 years a number of new anti-epileptic drugs have come onto the market. We need GPs to make mums aware of the register so that by tracking them during and after pregnancy  we can build a picture for the future.'

Women with epilepsy have a slightly higher risk of having a baby with a birth defect than women who don’t have epilepsy.

But Professor Sander warned it was important for mums with epilepsy not to be panicked into stopping their medication.  'This could cause seizures to increase or become more severe which may cause more problems for the mother or unborn baby than any risks associated with the drugs.

Pregnancy and parenting