Mood-Stabilizing Anticonvulsants, Spina Bifida, and Folate Supplementation: Commentary

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High risks of neural tube defects and other teratogenic effects are associated with exposure in early pregnancy to some anticonvulsants, including in women with bipolar disorder.


Based on a semistructured review of recent literature, we summarized findings pertaining to this topic.


Valproate and carbamazepine are commonly used empirically (off-label) for putative long-term mood-stabilizing effects. Both anticonvulsants have high risks of teratogenic effects during pregnancy. Risks of neural tube defects (especially spina bifida) and other major malformations are especially great with valproate and can arise even before pregnancy is diagnosed. Standard supplementation of folic acid during pregnancy can reduce risk of spontaneous spina bifida, but not that associated with valproate or carbamazepine. In contrast, lamotrigine has regulatory approval for long-term use in bipolar disorder and appears not to have teratogenic effects in humans.


Lack of protective effects against anticonvulsant-associated neural tube defects by folic acid supplements in anticipation of and during pregnancy is not widely recognized. This limitation and high risks of neural tube and other major teratogenic effects, especially of valproate, indicate the need for great caution in the use of valproate and carbamazepine to treat bipolar disorder in women of child-bearing age.

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