The epilepsy drug phenytoin can cause brain damage in babies if taken during pregnancy, according to a Canadian study.

Researchers compared 36 mother child pairs who were exposed to the drug with a similar number of control pairs who were not taking the drug. They found that where mothers had taken the drug, their babies had “a significantly lower” IQ score on average reduced by 10 points than controls. They also did less well in language and comprehension tests. “These differences could not be accounted for by differences in other factors, such as maternal IQ or the family’s socioeconomic status,” they conclude. Earlier studies have found that the drug causes major physical malformations in babies.

The Canadian researchers also looked at the impact of another epileptic drug, carbamazepine. In this case, their study found no evidence of damage to the babies of mothers taking the drug. It may be, therefore, that where it is essential for an epileptic mother to be to take medication, she should consider switching to carbamazepine.

!AJAMA, 9 March 1994.

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