However, one WDDTY reader further maintains that the underlying cause of her seizures are anti-convulsants prescribed to control epilepsy in the first place. They also induce a number of side effects, the most common being drowsiness and confusion.
The most widely used anti-convulsants are sodium valproate (Epilim) and carbamazepine (Tegretol), both of which can control generalized and partial seizures.
Phenytoin (Epanutin, Dilatin) is used for generalized fits, but you must have your blood checked regularly since a small increase in dose may create toxins (poisons) in the blood. It can also increase the frequency of the fits. A 1994 study shows epileptic women receiving phenytoin are inherently more likely to bear malformed children (JAMA, September 21, 1994).
The Physician's Desk Reference says that all epileptic drugs can cause birth defects. Specifically, it says valproic acid "may produce teratogenic effects in the offspring of human females receiving the drug during pregnancy. . .Therefore, anti-epileptic drugs should be administered to women of childbearing potential only if they are clearly shown to be essential in the management of their seizures."
Congenital malformations are two to three times more frequent in babies born to women with epilepsy, and it's now accepted that part of the reason is the ability of anti-convulsants to cause birth defects. In fact, these birth defects have now been labelled as "fetal valproate syndrome" characterized by distinctive facial features and possibly including spina bifida, heart disease, cleft lip or palate, limb defects and genital malformations (J Med Genetics, 1995; 32: 724-7).
The Centers for Disease Control estimates the risk of valproic-exposed-women having children with spina bifida to be approximately 1 to 2 per cent, a risk similar to that for non-epileptic women who have had children with neural tube defects.
In the past, doctors have blamed the well documented increase in frequency of reproductive disorders seen in epileptics on the condition itself. However, a Finnish study of 238 women aged between 18 to 45 taking anti-epilepsy drugs for an average of nine years suggests that conditions such as polycystic ovarian disease (which causes ovarian cysts) plus raised levels of testosterone (the male hormone) and menstrual problems may be a result of the treatment, rather than the disease (N Eng J Med, November 4, 1993).
Ethosuximide controls "absences" (when you look blank and stare, the eyelids twitch, flutter or blink it's a condition that lasts just for a few seconds), but can make other kinds of epilepsy worse and so is only given in certain circumstances.
Phenobarbitone, a barbiturate, is also sometimes prescribed, but this also carries a host of serious risks, which include Parkinsonian effects (involuntary movements), impaired judgement, drowsiness, allergic reactions and depressed breathing.
In the last four years, two new drugs have been introduced in the UK. Vigabatrin, or Lamictal, supposedly causes fewer side effects than carmazepine (more commonly prescribed, but whose side effects include rashes and sleepiness), although this is currently being debated (The Lancet, May 20, 1995) and may result in a clash of two evils.
There have also been deaths following the use of the drug. Wellcome Medical Division, which manufactures Lamotrigine, states in the Data Sheet Compendium that: "During clinical trials in over 4,000 patients receiving multiple anti-epileptic therapy, including Lamotrigine, there have been, rarely, deaths following rapidly progressive illnesses with