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Epilepsy Drug Sodium Valproate And Birth Defects - A Devastating Scandal

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Sodium Valproate, also known as Epilim, Episenta, Epival, and Convulex (as valproic acid), has been linked to catastrophic disabilities in around 20,000 children in the UK.

MP Norman Lamb has called the situation an “extraordinary scandal”[1].

Families who have been affected by harm caused to their children as a result of taking sodium valproate are calling for a public enquiry and demanding compensation[2].

What is sodium valproate?

Sodium valproate is a drug used to treat epilepsy.  Epilepsy affects the brain and can cause epileptic seizures.  These seizures are recurrent and unprovoked.  Epilepsy often occurs alongside other neurological disorders; however, it can also develop from a brain injury, a birth injury or a tumour.

Sodium valproate works by reducing abnormal electrical activity within the brain.

What is the link between birth defects and sodium valproate?

According to campaigners, the risks of birth defects and developmental problems in babies born to mothers taking drugs containing sodium valproate, such as Epilim, should have been made public 40 years ago[3].

Catherine Cox from the Fetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome Association told a public hearing of the European Medicines Agency; “These warnings [about sodium valproate] should have been given in 1974; however, there was a deliberate decision not to publish them.”

The BBC reported in September 2017 that 70% of women taking sodium valproate had not received notification of the risk that sodium valproate poses to unborn babies despite warnings being introduced in 2016[4].

What are the risks to an unborn child if the mother is taking sodium valproate for epilepsy?

Over 90% of women with epilepsy go on to have healthy babies.  However, there is a well-documented risk of birth defects and delayed learning development in children of mothers who are prescribed sodium valproate. 

According to the Epilepsy Society, 7 women in 100 (7%) who are prescribed sodium valproate have a baby born with a major malformation, rising to 1 in 10 women (10%) if they took more than 1000mg (1g) per day[5].

Also, up to 4 children in 10 (up to 40%) whose mothers took sodium valproate have problems with development and learning[6].

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) states that sodium valproate should not be prescribed to girls or women who are pregnant, or who may become pregnant in the future, unless other AEDs are not effective in controlling seizures, or they cause unbearable side effects.

The MHRA also recommends that treatment with sodium valproate should only be started by a doctor experienced in managing epilepsy.[7]”

New studies have shown that the medical problems associated with foetal valproate syndrome can be passed down the generations.[8]  Professor of Pharmacology Chan Young Shin has conducted research in South Korea on mice.  His finding indicates "the compound could cause autism spectrum disorder trans-generationally."

The harm caused to children has an international spread, with compensation claims being launched in Ireland[9].  An in-depth study in France showed mothers treated with sodium valproate for epilepsy were up to four times likelier to give birth to a baby with serious malformations[10]. 

Can I claim compensation if my baby suffered cognitive defects after I have taken sodium valproate?

If your child has suffered from birth defects and/or learning disabilities after you took a prescription medication containing sodium valproate such as Epilin, you may be eligible to claim compensation.  Medical professionals have a duty of care to warn patients of side-effects from a prescribed drug. 

If you were not adequately warned of the risk sodium valproate could pose to your unborn child, you should contact an experienced personal injury solicitor who can advise and represent you on making a claim for compensation.

Bridget Buck, a 19-year-old born with severe medical problems including brain damage and spina bifida after her mother was prescribed sodium valproate is one of the many tragic stories in this scandal[11].  Unfortunately, her condition is deteriorating, and doctors have told her mother, Karen, that she is unlikely to live past a few months.  However, many families have children who need care and support, something that can be funded by a successful claim for compensation.

If you have been affected, contact a solicitor to establish your right to a claim immediately.

Our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for personal injury following taking sodium valproate. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at enquiries@ibbclaims.co.uk or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.


[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-42717083

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41399848

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/26/sodium-valproate-birth-defect-risks-known-40-years-ago-campaigners

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41345647

[5] https://www.epilepsysociety.org.uk/are-there-risks-my-baby#.WmXX4ahl-Uk

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid

[8] https://www.nature.com/articles/srep36250

[9] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/families-to-sue-over-epilepsy-pill-side-effects-txq0tmpdx

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-39657139

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-42717083

Epilepsy Drug Sodium Valproate And Birth Defects - A Devastating Scandal

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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The information contained within our Blog Articles is provided as general information only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice or seek to be an exhaustive statement of the law and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. For further details, please see our terms of use policy.

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