Causes Of Birth Defects
does sodium valproate cause spina bifida?
It is now known that doctors were aware as early as 1974 of the risks the medication sodium valproate could pose to unborn children. Those risks include developmental difficulties in 40% of children whose mothers were given the epilepsy drug during pregnancy and physical birth defects in 11% of cases.
One of the most serious physical birth defects associated with sodium valproate is spina bifida, which is where a baby’s spine and spinal cord fail to develop correctly in the womb, resulting in a gap in the spine. The condition causes serious damage to a baby’s nervous system with lifelong consequences for their health and wellbeing.
While spina bifida can be treated, for example by surgically closing the spine, the damage is normally already done. The effects of spina bifida include weakness and paralysis of the legs. Incontinence and loss of sensation in the legs and buttocks, also. Many babies born with spina bifida also experience build-up of fluid around the brain (hydrocephalus) which can lead to brain damage such as cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.
• How Sodium Valproate Causes Birth Defects
Sodium valproate causes spina bifida by interfering with the development of the ‘neural tube’ during pregnancy. The neural tube is the precursor to the central nervous system in an embryo which goes on to form the brain and spinal cord as the baby develops.
At around 4 weeks after conception, the neural tube should close, but sodium valproate can interfere with this. As a result, the structure does not fully close, leaving an opening in the spine and the membranes around the spinal cord.Depending the exact location and severity of the problem, this can result in one of three different types of spina bifida:
- Spina bifida occulta – The mildest form, this involves splits in the vertebrae of the spine and can result in skin lesions, birth marks and other minor issues. Many people with spina bifida occulta are not even aware they have the condition.
- Meningocele – The rarest type of spina bifida, this is whether the membrane surrounding the spinal cord protrudes through a gap or gaps in the vertebrae. This rarely results in damage to the spinal cord, so is usually not the cause of any major health issues.
- Myelomeningocele – The most severe form of spina bifida, this is where there is a large enough gap in the spine and spinal membrane for the spinal cord to be exposed. This tends to result in serious nervous damage and the lifelong health consequences generally associated with spina bifida.
• Treatment for Spina Bifida
While the primary treatment for spina bifida is to surgically correct the opening in the spine soon after birth, various other treatments and types of support will usually be needed throughout childhood and often into adulthood as well. Common treatment for spina bifida includes:
- Occupational therapy
- Treatment for incontinence and other bowel & bladder issues
- Various types of medication
There is also often a need for wheelchairs, walking aids and other types of mobility equipment and assistive devices.
• Claiming Compensation For Spina Bifida Due to Sodium Valproate
Children with spina bifida will generally need lifelong care support, as well as various types of treatment and specialist equipment. This can place a significant financial strain on their loved ones, so where the condition is connected to sodium valproate, claiming compensation is often essential to fund the full range of support a child needs.
If you need to claim compensation for spina bifida or other effects of Foetal Valproate Syndrome (FVS), it is a good idea to work with a legal team with specific experience with sodium valproate claims. These cases can be complex, so having experienced, expert advice can make all the difference to your ability to secure a fair settlement.
image: Infant with Spina Bifida: wikimedia Public Domain
Ultrasound image of fetus at 4 months: publicdomainfiles .com Public Domain