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RCOG statement on the long-term effects on child IQ of epilepsy drug valproate during pregnancy

News 23 January 2013

The Lancet Neurology has published research today suggesting that taking the anti-epileptic drug valproate during pregnancy affects the IQ of children up to the age of six.

Research published in 2009 showed that maternal valproate use during pregnancy affected children’s IQ at three years old, leading the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a warning that foetal valproate exposure is associated with impaired cognitive outcomes.

The new research reports on the same group of children – whose mothers used one of four common anti-epileptic drugs, including valproate, during pregnancy – at six years old.

The findings show that children whose mothers had used valproate during pregnancy had reduced IQ (by 7-10 points), compared with children from mothers who had used the other antiepileptic drugs included in the study. Valproate exposure was also associated with worse verbal and memory abilities.

Commenting on the research, Dr Tony Falconer, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said:

“Previous research around anti-epileptic medication during pregnancy has focused on pregnancy outcome, highlighting an increased risk of pregnancy complications, caesarean section and major malformations of the newborn. Yet little research has been conducted around the effects of maternal use of anti-epileptic medication on the child.

“The findings of this new study further underline the serious need for more research in this area to ensure that clinicians can offer the best advice to women with epilepsy about what medication is the safest to use for them and their child.

“For some women, valproate is the only drug that can control their epilepsy and without the option of stopping their medication, pregnancy can be particularly distressing.

“We advise that women with epilepsy should seek advice and information from their doctor pre-conception as well as throughout their pregnancy. This will help ensure women can make well informed decisions about planning their pregnancy and any concerns they have about their medication.”


For further information, please contact the RCOG Media and PR team on +44 20 7772 6300 or email

For more information about the research please click here: