This information is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD).
Fetal valproate syndrome (FVS) may occur if a developing baby is exposed to valproic acid during pregnancy. Valproic acid, also known as valproate, is a medication that is often used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder, and migraines. Many babies who are exposed to this medication during pregnancy are born healthy with normal growth and development. However, studies have found that women who take valproate during pregnancy have a greater chance of having a baby with a major birth defect or other health problem. Symptoms of FVS vary but may include characteristic facial features, spina bifida, congenital heart defects, cleft lip and/or cleft palate, genital abnormalities, skeletal abnormalities, and developmental delay. A child exposed to valproic acid may be at a higher risk for learning and behavioral problems. Although there is no cure for FVS, many of the possible signs and symptoms of FVS do have treatments or therapies available. Early intervention programs may also be helpful.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that valproate and related products should not be taken by women for the prevention of migraine headaches during pregancy. With regard to valproate use in pregnant women with epilepsy or bipolar disorder, valproate products should only be prescribed if other medications are not effective in treating the condition or are otherwise unacceptable. However, it is important to note that women who are pregnant and taking a valproate medication should not stop their medication but should talk to their doctor or other trusted medical professional immediately. Stopping valproate treatment suddenly can cause serious and life-threatening medical problems to the woman or her baby. For example, the sudden discontinuation of valproate in pregnant women with seizures can result in persistent seizures, which can cause harm, including death, to the mother and/or the unborn baby.
The FDA suggests a pregnant woman taking valproate or other anti-seizure medication should talk to her doctor or other trusted medical professional about registering with the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry. The purpose of this registry is to collect information about the safety of anti-seizure medications during pregnancy. A pregnant woman taking anti-seizure medication can enroll in this registry by calling 1-888-233-2334. You can read more about the registry on the North American AED (Antiepileptic Drug) Pregnancy Registry website.
For more information, visit GARD.