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Anticonvulsant Drugs

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Anticonvulsants and Antiepileptics During Pregnancy

Anticonvulsants during pregnancy may be linked to birth defects in children and newborns.  If you have taken an anticonvulsant or antiepileptic during pregnancy, contact a defective drug lawsuit attorney for help immediately.

Anticonvulsant drugs, also called anti-seizure or antiepileptic (AED) drugs, are prescription pharmaceutical medications prescribed to individuals suffering from epilepsy or other seizure-related disorders. Some anticonvulsants and antiepileptics are also prescribed for additional uses including for the prevention of migraine headaches and as a mood stabilizer for individuals suffering from bipolar disorder. Anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs can sometimes even be used for off-label purposes like anxiety control, nerve pain and weight loss, if the prescribing physician deems the treatment appropriate.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2.3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy, with nearly 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year. In an attempt to effectively treat this debilitating condition, among others, anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs have become the first line of defense against epilepsy. Unfortunately, extensive anticonvulsant side effect research in recent years has identified anticonvulsant and antiepileptic use during pregnancy as a risk factor for the development of major birth defects and malformations among infants.

Types of Anticonvulsants and Antiepileptics

There are several different types of anticonvulsants and antiepileptics, many of which come in several different forms, including tablet, liquid, capsule, and sprinkle form. Anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs have been on the market for many years, one of the first of which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1953 as Dilantin (phenytoin) and used for the treatment of seizures. Some of the most commonly prescribed anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy are Depakote (valproate), Dilantin (phenytoin), Topamax (topiramate), and Tegretol (carbamazepine). These drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years for the treatment of epilepsy and other seizure-related disorders, and new anticonvulsants and antiepileptics are constantly being developed and marketed to consumers across the country.

How Antiepileptics During Pregnancy Work

Anticonvulsant and antiepileptic medications are central nervous system depressants specifically designed to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. These drugs function by suppressing the excessive firing of certain neurotransmitters in the brain which are responsible for causing seizure-relate episodes. If the drug fails to do so, the next goal would be to prevent the seizure from spreading to the rest of the brain and to protect the brain from suffering any permanent damage. Anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs including Topamax, Dilantin, Depakote, and Tegretol are most commonly prescribed to individuals suffering from seizures associated with epilepsy.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterized by repeated, spontaneous seizures, which are episodes of disturbed brain function causing changes in behavior or attention. Seizures are caused by abnormally excited signals in the brain resulting from permanent injury or changes in brain tissue. Epilepsy can affect individuals of any age, who may or may not have any additional neurological problems. The symptoms associated with epilepsy depend largely upon the type of seizure the person has, which in turn depends upon the part of the brain that is involved. There are several different types of seizures associated with epilepsy, the most common of which include:

  • Absence (petit mal) seizure
  • Generalized tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure
  • Partial onset seizure

Absence seizure is the term commonly used to describe a brief disturbance of brain function due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This type of seizure typically affects people under the age of 20, most commonly children ages six to twelve. In some cases, absence seizures may happen on their own, but may also occur along with other types of seizures, including tonic-clonic seizures, sudden loss of muscle strength, and twitches or jerks. Absence seizures typically last only a few seconds and the affected individual may experience staring episodes and may suddenly stop walking or talking in the middle of a sentence. Individuals who experience an absence seizure are often wide awake and thinking clearly immediately after the seizure occurs.

Generalized tonic-clonic seizures are much more serious, as they involve the entire body and are characterized by violent muscle contractions, loss of consciousness, and muscle rigidity. Other symptoms of the tonic phase of these seizures include difficulty breathing, incontinence, clenched teeth or jaw, and blue skin color. During the clonic phase, the individual may experience drowsiness, confusion, temporary weakness of one side of the body, a headache, and a strong desire to sleep. Many affected individuals may experience a warning sign before the seizure occurs, which can include a certain taste, smell, vision, sensory change, dizziness, or hallucination.  These seizures may be dangerous to both mother and child, which is the reason for anticonvulsant use during pregnancy.

Partial onset seizures occur when the abnormal electrical activity involves only a limited area of the brain. In some cases though, the seizure may turn into a generalized seizure, which affects the whole brain. Partial seizures are typically classified as simple, in which awareness and memory are not affected, and complex, in which awareness, behavior, and memory of events occurring before, during, and immediately following the seizure are affected. The symptoms associated with partial seizures depend upon the part of the brain in which the seizure begins, but typically include abnormal muscle contractions, numbness or tingling, nausea, sweating, rapid heart rate, hallucinations, and repetitive movements like lip smacking and abnormal chewing or swallowing.  These kinds of seizures may also be harmful to both baby and mother, and many doctors prescribe antiepileptics during pregnancy to treat them.

Anticonvulsant Use During Pregnancy

In recent years, both credible medical studies and human experiences have indicated a potential connection between the use of anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy and the development of severe birth defects among infants who are exposed to the drugs in utero. In fact, according to a 2001 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs are one of the most common causes of potential harm to a human fetus. Furthermore, researchers determined that the frequency of birth defects among infants born to epileptic women is associated with the antiepileptic and anticonvulsant drugs during pregnancy rather than with the epilepsy itself.

If you are currently taking an anticonvulsant and antiepileptic while pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician immediately about the side effects risks. The FDA has classified many anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs as pregnancy category C or D medications, which means there is positive human evidence of the drugs' potential to cause significant harm to a human fetus. The FDA has advised physicians to avoid prescribing these medications to pregnant women unless the possible benefits of anticonvulsant and antiepileptic during pregnancy treatment justify the potential risks to the fetus.

An Anticonvulsant Birth Defect Attorney Can Help

If you or a loved one has suffered from a birth defect, which you believe to be linked to the use of an antiepileptic or anticonvulsant drug during pregnancy, contact an anticonvulsant and antiepileptic attorney as soon as possible. You are not responsible for the adverse side effects potentially associated with anticonvulsant and antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy, and you may be entitled to reimbursement by filing an anticonvulsant and antiepileptic lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company responsible for manufacturing the drug. The goal of anticonvulsant and antiepileptic lawsuits and potential anticonvulsant and antiepileptic class action lawsuits is to seek financial compensation for your injuries and the medical costs of treating your injuries from anticonvulsant use during pregnancy, as well as the pain and suffering endured by you and your family. Anticonvulsant and antiepileptic lawyers are extremely experienced in defective drug litigation and can help victims of alleged anticonvulsant and antiepileptic birth defects collect the compensation they deserve.

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Spread the word so women are aware of the risks for both anticonvulsant birth defects and antidepressant birth defects and so families dealing with the hardship and expenses of lifetime care can get financial help from experienced class action attorneys. Learn more about Side Effects from prescription drugs.


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