Epilepsy Increases Risk of Maternal Death in Childbirth

All pregnant women run some risk of experiencing a difficult or dangerous delivery or giving birth to a child with a serious birth defect. However, substantial research has shown that women who struggle with epilepsy face extra risks, including a much higher risk of having a child with a birth defect if they must use epilepsy medications like Topamax or Depakote while they are expecting. Now, a new study suggests that simply having epilepsy may make a woman more likely to die during childbirth.

The study, led by Sarah Mac Donald of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, was published in the July 6 edition of JAMA Neurology. Here, MacDonald and her team evaluated medical records from hospital births from 2007 to 2011. These records reflected nearly 4.2 million deliveries in the United States, with more than 14,000 of those deliveries among women diagnosed with epilepsy. What they found was that women with epilepsy are more likely to die during childbirth, and are also more likely to experience complications like preeclampsia, preterm labor, stillbirth, prolonged hospital stays, and C-sections.

Despite the fact that the “relative risk” of death during hospital delivery is higher in women with epilepsy, MacDonald still stressed that it is still very rare, according to an article covering the study results in US News & World Report. Additionally, Dr. Jacqueline French, neurology professor at the Langone School of Medicine ad New York University in New York City and co-author of an editorial published with the study, says that the study should not cause fear amongst women with epilepsy, saying, “If you have epilepsy, the great likelihood is that you are going to have a healthy, normal pregnancy and delivery.”

MacDonald and her team state that the study shows a need for further research into how epilepsy affects pregnancy. It is unknown whether conditions commonly seen in women with epilepsy such as diabetes, kidney disease, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse, contribute to the risk or morbidity during childbirth. Additionally, further studies must be conducted to evaluate the role of anti-epilepsy drugs like Topamax and Depakote on maternal health during delivery.

While researchers prepare to further evaluate the risks faced by women with epilepsy who are pregnant, MacDonald says “it may be necessary to consider pregnancies in women with epilepsy as high risk.” It is also very important for women with epilepsy and their doctors to carefully weigh the benefits of anti-seizure medications against all risks, including the risk of serious congenital birth defects. Recently, a number of women have filed personal injury lawsuits after their children were born with birth defects like cleft lip and cleft palate due to their use of an anti-seizure medication while pregnant. For more information on Topamax cleft lip lawsuits, please contact an experienced lawyer for a free legal consultation.