The Food and Drug Administration is warning pregnant women who suffer from migraines that a drug commonly used to treat the debilitating headaches could lower a child's IQ by eight to 11 points.
The drug known as Depakote is changing from a Category D classification -- meaning the drug is acceptable despite potential risks -- to a Category X drug, denoting that risks outweigh possible benefits.
The FDA is urging women of child-bearing age who use the drug to also use birth control or cease taking doses of Depakote if they decide to become pregnant.
Pregnant mothers know that anything they put in their body also goes into the body of their child, and that's why Dr. Virginia Lupo is advising expectant mothers to closely watch even over-the-counter medicines.
"When babies are growing rapidly and the brain is growing rapidly, a change in how much blood flow is going to one part versus another could easily impact development long-term," she explained.
Dr. Ronald Tarrel told FOX 9 News Depakote is often prescribed as a daily medicine to prevent the onset of migraines and is successful.
"It's the medicine that actually works quite well for prevention of migraines and sometimes even to rid someone of a chronic migraine that just won't quit," he said.
Yet, the drug does contain sodium valproate, which carries a warning about birth defect risks. Now, research shows the pills could actually lower a child's IQ. Luckily for patients, Tarrel says other options are available.
"There are several other medicinal choices and usually, we can find another choice for someone that will at least help them decrease the frequency and severity of their migraines -- if not almost rid them of it," he said.
Depakote and its generic equivalents are also prescribed to treat bi-polar disorder and prevent seizures, but in those cases, the FDA says there may be some "value" to pregnant women. Even so, Lupo says it's best to discuss it with your doctor first.
"If someone is on this med and thinking about getting pregnant, they should really talk beforehand to see if there is some safer alternative for them," she recommended.
It's not known whether there is a certain time period during pregnancy when drug exposure can result in decreased IQ, but the FDA believes the risks far outweigh the benefit of migraine treatment.
"No parent, no mother would want to take a drug that lowered her child's IQ knowingly," Lupo agreed. "I think that is a big deal."
To put things in perspective, the anti-nausea medication Thalidomide is another Category X prescription for pregnant women. That medicine caused thousands of birth defects over 50 years.