From the Editor

Women with epilepsy: 5 clinical pearls for contraception and preconception counseling

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5. Folic acid: Although the optimal dose for WWE taking an AED and planning to become pregnant is unknown, a high dose is reasonable.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that women planning pregnancy take 0.4 mg of folic acid daily, starting at least 1 month before pregnancy and continuing through at least the 12th week of gestation.20 ACOG also recommends that women at high risk of a neural tube defect should take 4 mg of folic acid daily. WWE taking a teratogenic AED are known to be at increased risk for fetal malformations, including neural tube defects. Should these women take 4 mg of folic acid daily? ACOG notes that, for women taking valproate, the benefit of high-dose folic acid (4 mg daily) has not been definitively proven,21 and guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology do not recommend high-dose folic acid for women receiving AEDs.22 Hence, ACOG does not recommend that WWE taking an AED take high-dose folic acid.

By contrast, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG) recommends that all WWE planning a pregnancy take folic acid 5 mg daily, initiated 3 months before conception and continued through the first trimester of pregnancy.23 The RCOG notes that among WWE taking an AED, intelligence quotient is greater in children whose mothers took folic acid during pregnancy.24 Given the potential benefit of folic acid on long-term outcomes and the known safety of folic acid, it is reasonable to recommend high-dose folic acid for WWE.

Final takeaways

Surveys consistently report that WWE have a low-level of awareness about the interaction between AEDs and hormonal contraceptives and the teratogenicity of AEDs. For example, in a survey of 2,000 WWE, 45% who were taking an enzyme-inducing AED and an estrogen-progestin oral contraceptive reported that they had not been warned about the potential interaction between the medications.25 Surprisingly, surveys of neurologists and obstetrician-gynecologists also report that there is a low level of awareness about the interaction between AEDs and hormonal contraceptives.26 When providing contraceptive counseling for WWE, prioritize the use of a copper or levonorgestrel IUD. When providing preconception counseling for WWE, educate the patient about the high teratogenicity of valproate and the lower risk of malformations associated with the use of lamotrigine, levetiracetam, and oxcarbazepine.

Epilepsy and operation of a motor vehicle
For most women with epilepsy, maintaining a valid driver's license is important for completion of daily life tasks. Most states require that a patient with seizures be seizure-free for 6 to 12 months to operate a motor vehicle. Estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives can reduce the concentration of some AEDs, such as lamotrigine. Hence, it is important that the patient be aware of this interaction and that the primary neurologist be alerted if an estrogen-containing contraceptive is prescribed to a woman taking lamotrigine or valproate. Specific state laws related to epilepsy and driving are available at the Epilepsy Foundation website (


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