Carbamazepine connection to spina bifida

Women with epilepsy who take carbamazepine during pregnancy may be at greater risk of having a baby with spina bifida, according to recent studies.  The research is not conclusive at this point, but the medical profession has been put on guard against prescribing the drug for pregnant women.

Carbamazepine is used to control seizures associated with epilepsy, and this control is very important during pregnancy.  This drug, also known as Tegretol, is one of the most effective, and physicians must weigh the dangers of an epileptic seizure during pregnancy against the possibility of spina bifida in a newborn infant.

Spina bifida presents a life-long health problem to its victims; it is a condition in which the spinal cord remains in place, but the vertebrae are malformed to one degree or another, leading to partial or complete paralysis in severe cases.  The latest study showed that babies born of women taking carbamazepine while pregnant were 2.6 times more likely to be stricken with the disease.

An even riskier seizure-controlling drug is valproic acid, known as Depakene.  In another study by the same group of researchers, they found that the use of valproic acid during pregnancy posed a six times greater risk of the women having babies with spina bifida.  The risk of other birth defects such as hypospadias was seven times greater with valproic acid.

The lead researcher in the study at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands said that the studies could help physicians and patients in deciding what treatment would be best, as it is a decision to be made on an individual basis.  He noted that although a definite connection has been established between carbamazepine and spina bifida, the overall ratio of incidence is only 3%, a comparatively small risk.