Children whose mothers took antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) while pregnant are at an increased risk of early development issues, including motor development, language skills, social skills and autistic traits, according to a new study.
A research team led by Dr. Gyri Veiby from Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, studied children from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. From 1999 through 2008, researchers recruited mothers at 13 to 17 weeks of pregnancy.
The mothers subsequently reported motor development, language skills, social skills and autistic traits of their children at 18 months (61,351 children) and 36 months (44,147 children).
The study found that 333 children were exposed to AEDs in the womb. At 18 months, those children had increased risk of abnormal gross motor skills and autistic traits, the researchers report.
At 36 months, the children showed an increase in abnormal scores for gross motor skills, sentence skills, and autistic traits compared to children who were not exposed to the drugs.
The researchers noted that further analysis determined that AED-exposed children had an increased risk of birth defects compared to children not exposed to the drugs in utero.
Importantly, they add, no increased risk of developmental delays was found in children born to women with epilepsy who did not use the drugs during pregnancy. Children of fathers with epilepsy generally scored within the normal ranges for early childhood development.
“Our study — a unique large-scale, population-based study on early developmental outcomes in offspring of parents with epilepsy — confirms that children exposed to anti-seizure medications in the womb had lower scores for key developmental areas than children not exposed to AEDs,” said Veiby.
“Exposure to valproate, lamotrigine, carbamazepine or multiple anti-seizure medications was linked to adverse developmental outcomes.”
The researchers stress the importance of seizure control during pregnancy that balances possible adverse effects on the development of the baby’s brain. Future research should examine the effects of specific AEDs on fetal development, and whether these effects continue from early childhood into school-age and adulthood, the researchers conclude.
The study appeared in the journal Epilepsia.