Epilepsy drug linked to tenfold increase in autism
Children born to mothers who took an epilepsy drug while pregnant are up to ten times more likely to suffer autism or similar conditions, a study has found.
The study found children born to women who took sodium valproate, known as Epilim, were significantly more likely to suffer autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyspraxia.
Researchers warned that women should not stop taking the drug suddenly as fits can harm their unborn child and most women went on to have healthy children.
The findings were published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Researchers from Liverpool University, studied 528 women in the north west of England.
Just fewer than half the mothers had epilepsy and all but 34 of whom took antiepileptic drugs during their pregnancy.
Fifty nine mums took carbamazepine; 59 took valproate; 36 took lamotrigine; 41 took a combination; and 15 took other drugs.
Their children were assessed three times up to the age for/of six and their mothers asked if they had consulted specialists about their child’s development.
By the age of six, 19 children had been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, of these 12 had autism, one had both autism and ADHD, three had ADHD and four had dyspraxia.
Children exposed to valproate alone in the womb were six times more likely to be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Those exposed to valproate plus other drugs were ten times more likely to have a diagnosis than children whose mothers did not have epilepsy.
It means 12 per cent of children whose mums had taken valproate alone during their pregnancy had a neurodevelopmental problem, as did one in seven of those whose mums had taken valproate with other drugs.
No child born to a mum with epilepsy, but who didn’t take drugs for the condition during her pregnancy, was diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Boys were three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, but no significant associations were found for the mother’s age or IQ, length of pregnancy, or epileptic seizure type.
Author of the study Dr Rebecca Bromley, of the Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, said: “If sodium valproate is the treatment of choice, women should be provided with as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision.
“But on no account should pregnant women just stop taking the drug for fear of harming their developing child.”
Dr Gavin Woodhall, Reader in Neuropharmacology at Aston University, said: “This study in man is consistent with what is seen in animal models and should come as no major surprise.
“However, this is only a small study as yet, and it is important to take into account the fact that controlling epilepsy in pregnancy is very important, and most women who are treated for epilepsy during pregnancy go on to have perfectly normal babies.”