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Drugs, Not Epilepsy, Cause Birth Defects, Study Says

April 12, 2001

Birth defects such as a small head or growth retardation seen in the babies of epileptic women who take drugs for their seizures are caused by the drugs, not the epilepsy, a team from Massachusetts General Hospital reports in today's New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Lewis Holmes and his colleagues found that 98 women with epilepsy who did not take anti-seizure drugs during their pregnancy were no more likely to have a baby with a physical deformity than 508 women without epilepsy.

But among 316 women who took a drug such as phenobarbital, phenytolin (Dilantin), or carbamazepine (Tegretol), the rate of birth defects was nearly three times higher. And for women who took two or more of the anti-seizure drugs, the rate was more than four times higher. The malformations included a small head, growth retardation, and abnormalities of the face and fingers.

--Compiled by Times Medical Writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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