Epilepsy and pregnancy

Nowadays having epilepsy is no longer usually a reason not to have children of your own. Most expec­tant mothers with epilepsy progress through pregnancy largely without problem.

Impor­tant note: It is impor­tant to discuss starting a family with your neurol­o­gist well in advance, if possible two years before a planned pregnancy. This is partic­u­larly relevant to girls and young women taking valproate (trade names include Depakine and Orfiril). – See the base of this page for more infor­ma­tion.

As contra­cep­tives can interact with anti-epileptic drugs, women should also consult their neurol­o­gist if they need to take them.

Apart from a few rare excep­tions, epilep­sies are not inher­ited disor­ders.

If several family members have epilepsy or a person suspects they may have an inher­ited form of epilepsy then it may be worth under­taking genetic testing.

If taken by the mother during pregnancy, valproate causes abnor­mal­i­ties (e.g. spina bifida) in around 10 percent of infants. It also causes devel­op­mental problems (lower than average intel­li­gence, autism) in around 30 to 40% of children whose mothers took valproate while pregnant.

The medica­tion containing the active ingre­dient valproic acid or valproate is avail­able in Switzer­land under the trade names Depakine Chrono, Orfiril, Convulex, Valproat Chrono Desitin retard, Valproat Sandoz retard and Valproate Chrono Zentiva.

If someone is already taking valproate and wants to become pregnant or is pregnant already, they must not under any circum­stances stop taking their medica­tion without medical advice – a fall during a seizure could be more dangerous to the unborn child and the mother than the side effects of the drug. Patients who fall into the above categories should urgently consult the neurol­o­gist who is treating them.

Our advice to doctors and epilepsy patients: We recom­mend that girls and women of child­bearing age do not start or continue treat­ment with valproate. Only if no other alter­na­tive is effec­tive can there be a case for taking valproate.

Infor­ma­tion by Swissmedic (French/German)

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Authors: Günter Krämer, Stephan Rüegg; last updated: 2019