Folic Acid

Folic Acid by Sinead Murphy, Community Epilepsy Specialist Nurse first published in Epilepsy News Issue 22 - Summer 2003

I have been diagnosed with epilepsy and my doctor has asked me to take folic acid can you explain to me why?
If you are a woman of child bearing potential and have been diagnosed with epilepsy, it is important to be made aware of the benefits of taking folic acid. By taking the higher dose tablet of folic acid (5mg as prescribed by your doctor; it cannot be acquired over the counter) prior to conception you are reducing the risks of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

What is folic acid?
Folic acid is a vitamin belonging to the vitamin B group. The body cannot produce it; therefore; it needs to be taken in with food or as a daily tablet. Women do not get enough folic acid from their diet alone and it is recommended that they increase their intake of folic acid by taking daily folic acid tablets.

Why is extra folic acid required for women with epilepsy?
The reason for the recommended increased dose of folic acid, 5mg, is that certain ant-epileptic medications metabolise folic acid already in the body at a faster rate, leaving reduced amounts of the vitamin in your body, which is essential in the early development of the baby's spinal cord.

When should I take folic acid?
Ideally, it is advised that you start taking folic acid once you have entered the teenage years or 3 months before conception.

What if I am already pregnant, have epilepsy and taking anti-epileptic drugs?
If you find out that you are already pregnant and on anti-epileptic drugs, do not stop taking your anti-epileptic drugs unless advised by your doctor. Start taking folic acid 5mg as soon as possible and continue until you first check up with your maternity hospital/GP/Neurologist.