A PILOT project credited with helping women with epilepsy in the Glasgow region to have healthier pregnancies will be rolled out across Scotland from this week.

Under the initiative, young women with epilepsy will automatically be given an information leaflet whenever they pick up their medication urging them to contact a health professional if they are considering starting a family.

There are around 400 births a year in Scotland to mothers with epilepsy.

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Some epilepsy drugs are linked to a higher rate of physical and neuro-developmental birth defects, but the risk is substantially reduced if the mother plans ahead and has time to alter her medication or reduce the dosage.

Doctors also want women with epilepsy to be prescribed a high daily dose of folic acid - 5mg compared to the 400 micrograms recommended in standard pregnancies.

This amount is only available from a GP and should ideally be taken for several months before conception to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the unborn baby, which are more common among women with epilepsy.

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To coincide with National Epilepsy Week, which begins today, thousands of leaflets will be distributed to more than 1200 community pharmacies across Scotland ready to be handed out to women collecting their epilepsy drugs.

It follows a successful pilot launched in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde in 2016 which has been credited with boosting the number of patients coming forward for pre-conceptual counselling.

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Dr Linda Stephen, an associate specialist in neurology for NHSGGC who helped pioneer the scheme, said she hoped it would target women not in routine contact with specialists.

She said: "Generally the women myself and the nurse specialists see in our clinic will have been counselled on folic acid, and looked at their medications.

"These aren't the women we're trying to capture with this project - we're trying to capture the ones that are out there and not seeking medical advice.

"Usually its our obstetric colleagues who call us and say 'listen, she's 12 weeks pregnant, she's on such and such an epilepsy drug' and we're like 'why haven't we seen her?'. But she just hasn't come forward.

"The majority of women with epilepsy will have a normal pregnancy, a normal delivery, and a healthy baby - but there are a small minority that we need to work with."

Read more: Epileptic mum tells others to seek medical advice before conceiving 

Dr Stephen added that research indicates that up to 65 per cent of pregnancies among women with epilepsy are unplanned.

"If we can even get one or two per cent of these women to plan their pregnancies, we'll be winning," she said.

Although it is too soon to say what the impact of the Glasgow pilot may have had in terms of reducing pregnancy complications and birth defects, Dr Stephen believes that the long-term results across Scotland should show a decline.

In April, doctors were banned from prescribing the epilepsy drug sodium valproate to women of childbearing age in the UK unless they sign a waiver acknowledging the risks after it was linked to an estimated 20,000 cases of infants being born with disabilities since the 1970s.

Certain types of epilepsy medication can also interfere with the contraceptive pill.

However, there are more than 20 epilepsy drugs now available to medics and Dr Stephen said it was important to have the time with patients before they conceived to test them on new drugs and review their medication - for example lowering doses or splitting doses into smaller amounts across the day.

She added that planning was just as important to the mother's health as that of the unborn baby.

"These women are at risk from seizures, so it's not just a case of putting someone on medication and off they go. There's so much to think about."