New guidance on use of valproate in women, girls of child bearing age with epilepsy published

New guidance to support regulations around the use of valproate in women and girls of child bearing age with epilepsy has been published by specialists from 13 UK healthcare bodies including seven Royal Colleges.

And NICE has published a summary of updated guidance for healthcare professionals bringing together all its recommendations and other safety advice on the drug valproate.

The use of sodium valproate during pregnancy is associated with up to a 40 per cent risk of neuordevelopmental disorders and a 10 per cent risk of physical disabilities for an unborn child.

In March 2018, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency published guidelines which meant that valproate could no longer be prescribed for girls and women of childbearing age unless no other effective treatment was available.

Any girl or woman prescribed valproate should also be fully informed of the risks associated with the medication and the need for effective contraception.

But a year on, implementation of the guidelines have thrown up specific challenges with complex issues and individual situations where the best interests of the patient did not always appear to be met.

Claire Glazebrook, Director of Fundraising, Marketing and External Affairs at Epilepsy Society, said:

Over the last year our Helpline has received multiple calls from women, parents and healthcare professionals, all struggling to interpret the guidelines and what they mean for them as individuals. And we know that this experience is replicated across other patient organizations and clinics.

I hope this guidance will help to answer some of their questions and provide clarity in what can be a very emotional and challenging decision.

For some girls and women, they have no option but to take sodium valproate as it may be the only drug that will control their seizures. But that of course means there are some very important and potentially heartbreaking issues to consider around planning a family.

All these women and girls deserve consistency in the advice and information that they receive.”

The new pan-college guidance has been drawn up by Judy Shakespeare of the Royal College of General Practitioners and Sanjay Sisodiya of the Association of British Neurologists and Royal College of Physicians. Sanjay Sisodiya is also Director of Genomics at Epilepsy Society and Professor of Neurology at UCL.

He said: This work has come together through much valued contributions from specialists across all the national bodies involved.

“In some cases the new regulations have lead to situations where the best interests of the patients may not appear to be best served. Some of the points raised by the regulations are also complex ethical issues. We do not attempt to address all these issues in this document but hope that it will bring greater clarity for clinicians  leading to better care for women and girls with epilepsy. All women and girls have individual needs and where possible should be involved in the choices they make about their own health and plans to start a family.”

Writing in the guidance, Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England said:

I am very pleased that the Medical Royal Colleges have come together to produce this important and helpful guidance, so that doctors and other healthcare professionals across primary and secondary care are on the same page regarding the use of sodium valproate - including around instances where its use is still appropriate.”

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