Fetal growth, major malformations, and minor anomalies in infants born to women receiving valproic acid

J Pediatr. 1986 Jun;108(6):997-1004. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(86)80949-0.


The association of fetal and neonatal distress, birth measurements, major malformations, and minor anomalies was studied prospectively in 14 infants of women with epilepsy who were receiving valproic acid (VPA) monotherapy and in 12 infants of women with epilepsy who were receiving VPA in combination with other anticonvulsant drugs. Comparison was made with 26 matched-pair controls and 116 controls from a larger study of antiepileptic drugs. During the first trimester, total VPA serum concentrations were well above therapeutic levels (100 to 184 micrograms/ml) in two women receiving high VPA doses (2000 and 1500 mg daily). Although dosage remained the same, serum concentrations decreased during pregnancy to therapeutic levels (33.9 to 57.0 micrograms/ml). The VPA percent free fraction increased in the third trimester and was threefold higher at birth. Almost half of the infants exposed to VPA monotherapy were distressed during labor, and 28% had low Apgar scores. Fetal and neonatal distress may be caused by the high VPA percent free fraction during labor and at birth. Mean body measurements at birth after VPA monotherapy were comparable to those in the matched control group, but were reduced in the group of infants receiving VPA combination therapy. Four infants exposed to VPA monotherapy were born with major malformations. The median number of minor anomalies was four times higher in infants whose mothers received VPA alone or VPA combination therapy than in controls. Seven infants had a pattern of craniofacial and digital anomalies that was distinctly different from that observed after in utero exposure to other anticonvulsant medications. The occurrence of major malformations and the number of minor anomalies may be dose related.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Growth / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third
  • Prospective Studies
  • Valproic Acid / adverse effects*
  • Valproic Acid / metabolism


  • Valproic Acid