Hepatic enzyme-inducing antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) lower oral contraceptive (OC) sex hormone levels approximately 40% and increase the risk of unplanned pregnancies in women with epilepsy. AEDs also increase the risk of birth defects in offspring of women with epilepsy. We performed a national survey to determine obstetricians' and neurologists' knowledge of OC and AED interactions and the risk of birth defects for women with epilepsy taking AEDs. We received responses to a mailed questionnaire from 160 of 1,000 neurologists (16%) and 147 of 1,000 obstetricians (15%) from 47 states. Practice demographics and ages of responders were typical for U.S. neurologists and obstetricians. Ninety-one percent of neurologists and 75% of obstetricians said they treat women with epilepsy of child-bearing age. Only 4% of the neurologists and none of the obstetricians, however, knew the effects of the six most common AEDs on OCs, even though 27% of neurologists and 21% of obstetricians reported OC failures in their patients taking AEDs. Although increasing OC doses can compensate for insufficient OC sex hormone levels due to AEDs, most physicians do not increase the doses. Even though the risk of birth defects for the offspring of women with epilepsy is 4 to 6%, up from the background level of 2%, 44% of neurologists thought the risk was lower (0 to 3%), and some of the respondents guessed that it was as high as 50%. Many neurologists and obstetricians do not have accurate information to counsel women with epilepsy properly about their contraceptive and pregnancy choices.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology