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Widely prescribed drug may cause birth defects

Pregnant women are probably aware that many drugs can be bad for a fetus. Not all medications are safe to take during pregnancy, so it is imperative that drug companies label their products correctly. When a pregnant woman unknowingly takes an unsafe medication, the results can be serious for mother and baby alike.

One type of medication that pregnant woman may have taken without any such warning is known as valproate sodium. Along with related products such as valproic acid and divalproex sodium, valproate sodium is part of a class of drugs that was first approved in 1978 as a treatment for epilepsy. Later, valproate was approved as a treatment for migraine headaches and bipolar disorder. These drugs have been marketed under brand names such as Depakote, Depakene and Stavzor.

Unfortunately, these drugs carry serious risks of birth defects if they are consumed by pregnant women. The FDA warns that these drugs can cause neural tube defects, craniofacial defects and cardiovascular malformations. In one study, the FDA reports, children who were exposed to these drugs in the womb scored 8 to 11 points lower on IQ tests than children who had no such exposure.

The FDA warns doctors that the drugs should not be prescribed to women of childbearing potential unless the prescription is essential to treatment. In 2011, the agency began working with drug companies to revise the warning labels on the drugs.

Families who have been injured due to dangerous drugs may be entitled to compensation for their damages. A dangerous drug can cause many unexpected and serious side effects that may require a lifetime of medical expenses. An attorney with experience in these difficult cases can help families to understand how the law might apply to their unique set of circumstances.