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Study Links Children's Lower IQs to Epilepsy Drug Use During Pregnancy

By David Goguen on April 16, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A study released today found lower IQs in children born to mothers who had used the antiepileptic drug valproate (sold as Depakote) while pregnant, compared with results from other antiepileptic medications.

The study Cognitive Function at 3 Years of Age After Fetal Exposure to Antiepileptic Drugs is published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers tracked hundreds of pregnant women with epilepsy who were taking a number of different antiepileptic drugs, and looked at the cognitive function of 309 children of these mothers when the kids reached the age of 3.

The NEJM study concluded that children who had been exposed to valproate in utero had significantly lower IQ scores than those who had been exposed to other antiepileptic drugs. According to WebMD, "The average IQ of children born to women who took valproate was 92 (8 below the 100 that is considered average) and the scores of those exposed to other epilepsy drugs ranged from 98 to 101."

The New York Times reports that "Physicians involved in the [NEJM] study warned that valproate should never be the first choice for use in women of childbearing age, though exceptions may be made if a woman's epileptic seizures cannot be controlled with other available medications."

Valproate is marketed in the U.S. as Depakote and Depakote ER (manufactured by Abbott Laboratories) and is also available generically as divalproex sodium.

The NEJM study on valproate's risk to unborn babies isn't the first red flag associated with the drug. Most recently, in 2008, the FDA ordered the manufacturers of a number of antiepileptic drugs -- including Depakote and Depakote ER -- to change their labeling and medication guides to include warnings on the risks of suicidal thoughts or actions by patients using the drugs.

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