If you’re a woman and taking medicines for epilepsy, pain or mood regulation ACC, the Ministry of Health, the Health Quality & Safety Commission, and Foetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome New Zealand (FACS NZ) encourage you to talk to your doctor.

It’s important to understand both the benefits and risks of taking different medicines. Antiepileptic medicine is used to treat not just epilepsy, but also pain and mood regulation. Studies show antiepileptic medicine can pose a risk to unborn babies and may include spina bifida, cleft palate, heart defects, low IQ, and learning and behavioural problems. But the risks depend on what medicine you take, how much you take, and any other medication you may be on.

Harm can occur in the very early stages of pregnancy, often before people are even aware they’re pregnant, so it’s important for all women taking these medicines to use two effective forms of contraception (such as the Depo Provera Injection or IUD eg Mirena/coil and condoms).

“It’s vital that everyone understands their medication and is involved in the decision-making around their health. That’s why we’ve worked across agencies and with medical experts to create information about these medicines for both health professionals and women,” says Dr Peter Robinson, ACC’s Chief Clinical Advisor.

“Talk to your doctor, even if you aren’t planning on getting pregnant. Make sure you know the potential risks and can plan accordingly. Do not stop or reduce your medicine without speaking to your doctor, even if you think you’re pregnant. This sort of change to your medication can cause serious harm to you and your unborn baby.”

ACC, the Ministry of Health, the Health Quality & Safety Commission, and Foetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome New Zealand (FACS NZ) have worked with 15 clinicians and consumer advocates to create and distribute booklets for health professionals and women.

These can be found at www.acc.co.nz/treatementsafety

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