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Antiepileptics in pregnancy ‘linked with child developmental problems’

Exposure to antiepileptic drugs in utero can have long-term effects on a child’s development, according to a new study.

The study

Norwegian researchers looked at over 100,000 children of mothers with and without epilepsy. They determined that 333 children were exposed to antiepileptic drugs in utero, and compared this group with those with mothers without epilepsy. They recorded maternal reported development in motor development, language, social skills and autistic traits at 18 months and 36 months of age.

The results

At 18 months, the exposed children had a statistically significant increased risk of abnormal scores for gross motor skills and autistic traits, with scores of 7.1% and 3.5%, compared with 2.9% and 0.9% in the group of children with parents that did not have epilepsy. At 36 months, the exposed children had an increased risk of an abnormal score for gross motor skills, sentence skills and autistic traits, with scores of 7.5%, 11.2% and 6.0%, compared with scores of 3.3%, 4.8% and 1.5% in children of parents that did not have epilepsy. Children born to mothers with epilepsy who did not use antiepileptic drugs had no increased risks.

What it means for GPs

The authors said that there was little evidence currently about the developmental effects of antiepilepsy medications, but their study suggested ‘treatment that provides optimal seizure control is important in pregnancy, but should be balanced against potential effects on the foetal brain’.

Epilepsia 2013, online 18 July


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