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Epilepsia. 1996;37 Suppl 6:S34-44.

The new antiepileptic drugs and women: efficacy, reproductive health, pregnancy, and fetal outcome.

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  • 1Stanford Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Stanford University Medical School, California, USA.


As new antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) become available, physicians will define their appropriate use in particular patient populations. For women, the issues include gender-specific efficacy and tolerability, including the impact of the AED on reproductive health. Women with epilepsy who are treated with established AEDs appear to be at risk for compromised bone health, for disturbances in fertility, menstrual cyclicity, ovulatory function, and sexuality and, with some AEDs, for failure of hormonal contraception. Finally, pregnancy outcome may be adversely affected by the established AEDs, all of which are human teratogens. Felbamate (FBM), gabapentin (GBP), lamotrigine (LTG), oxcarbazepine (OCBZ), tiagabine (TGB), topiramate (TPM), and vigabatrin (VGB) were reviewed. The preclinical development process had not addressed all the issues of concern to women. Although gender-specific efficacy is routinely evaluated, impact on reproductive health is not. FBM, GBP, LTG, TGB, TPM, and VGB have similar efficacy in women and men. It is not known whether the new AEDs will affect bone health, fertility, the menstrual cycle, and sexuality. FBM, GBP, LTG, TGB, and probably VGB do not interfere with hormonal contraception. Whether these new AEDs are good choices for the pregnant woman with epilepsy awaits further experience in human pregnancy. However, animal reproductive toxicology studies appear promising. The limited number of human pregnancy exposures do not, thus far, signal a significant number or particular type of adverse outcomes. However, only with improved postmarketing surveillance can essential information about teratogenic effects by acquired in an acceptably short time.

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