Sodium valproate and the risk of birth defects

If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or have had a baby, you may have heard warnings of a drug called sodium valproate and the damage it can cause to unborn children.

This in-depth look at the issues associated with the medicine discusses the potential risks it poses, and what action you should take if you think you or your child may have been affected.

What is sodium valproate?

Sodium valproate is a prescription drug used to control epileptic seizures. It is also prescribed for bipolar disorder, pain management and migraines.

When the drug was introduced in the mid-1970s, guidance was provided to doctors which included a warning about the risk of birth defects.

Sodium valproate is no longer prescribed to women of childbearing age unless they are on a Pregnancy Prevention Plan (PPP). Currently, around 27,000 women fall into this category.

Pregnant woman who has not been prescribed sodium valproate

Risks associated with sodium valproate

Concerns about the risks associated with sodium valproate date back to the 1980s. It is understood that exposure to sodium valproate during pregnancy can cause birth defects. These include:

  • spina bifida (where the bones of the spine do not develop properly)
  • facial and skull malformations
  • malformations of the limbs, heart, kidney, urinary tract, and sexual organs

There are also concerns that exposure to sodium valproate can negatively impact early years development. Examples of issues include:

  • being late in learning to walk and talk
  • signs of lower intelligence than other children of the same age
  • poor speech and language skills
  • memory problems
  • greater likelihood of autism or autistic spectrum disorders
  • increased chances of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

How likely is it that a baby will be affected?

According to research, up to four in 10 babies are at risk of developmental disorders if sodium valproate is taken during pregnancy. One in 10 is at risk of birth defects.

Baby crawling on floor

Prescribing sodium valproate

Sodium valproate is (or was) used in three circumstances:

  • in a hormone pregnancy test known as Primodos (not used since 1978)
  • as an anti-epileptic drug
  • in transvaginal mesh used to treat prolapse and incontinence.

Valproate medicines were also licensed in 2001 for the treatment of bipolar disorder and are sometimes used for migraine prevention and in the treatment of neuropathic pain.

Poor awareness of the risks among health, social care and educational providers is also believed to have led to delayed diagnoses.

What to do if you are taking sodium valproate

If you are taking sodium valproate and are pregnant, trying for a child, or breastfeeding, you should immediately discuss this with your doctor.

It may be the case that your GP, nurse, consultant, pharmacist, or other health professional has made a mistake in prescribing your medication, in which case you may be entitled to compensation for medical negligence.

Mother at home with baby

What if you think sodium valproate has affected your baby?

If you and your baby were exposed to the drug, and you believe your child has suffered harm, speak to a medical professional first to confirm your concerns and whether there are any immediate dangers to your child’s health and wellbeing.

You may also be entitled to compensation for pain or suffering endured, or costs that you have subsequently had to bear.

The best option is to seek help from a reputable clinical negligence solicitor. They can manage the claims process on your behalf by assessing whether negligence occurred, and then help to build your case. They can also represent you in the legal process.

Getting professional advice about claiming for medical negligence

At Devonshires Claims, our experienced team of clinical negligence solicitors can assist with claims relating to incorrect medication and prescription errors involving sodium valproate, or harm and suffering caused due to medical negligence during pregnancy.

Our in-house experts will investigate your claim, assess whether negligence occurred, put together the case for you, and represent you during the legal process on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis.

To speak to a solicitor in confidence, and begin your free case evaluation, contact Devonshires Claims today. Call 0333 900 8787, send an email to or complete our online form.

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If you're considering legal action, then lets talk. We can discuss your circumstances and provide you with a free case evaluation to help you determine whether a claim is the best course of action.

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