THURSDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- The children of women who take drugs to treat epilepsy during pregnancy may be at increased risk for physical and mental developmental delays early in life, a large, new study finds.
Epilepsy is fairly common among women of childbearing age, and the use of antiepileptic drugs by pregnant women ranges from 0.2 to 0.5 percent.
In this study, researchers recruited Norwegian mothers at 13 to 17 weeks of pregnancy. For more than 61,000 children, mothers provided details about motor development, language skills, social skills and autistic symptoms at age 18 months. At 36 months, mothers provided that information for more than 44,000 children.
The researchers found that 333 of the children were exposed to antiepileptic drugs in the womb. At 18 months of age, these children were more likely to have motor skills problems and traits of autism. At 36 months of age, these children were more likely to have problems with motor skills and sentence skills, and traits of autism.
The children exposed to antiepileptic drugs also had an increased risk of birth defects, according to the study appearing July 18 in the journal Epilepsia.
No physical or mental development delays were found in children born to women with epilepsy who did not take antiepileptic drugs during pregnancy, and children of fathers with epilepsy generally showed normal early development, according to a journal news release.
"Our study ... confirms that children exposed to antiseizure medications in the womb had lower scores for key developmental areas than children not exposed to [antiepileptic drugs]," concluded Dr. Gyri Veiby, of Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, and colleagues. "Exposure to valproate, lamotrigine, carbamazepine or multiple antiseizure medications was linked to adverse developmental outcomes."
While the study found an association between antiseizure medications taken during pregnancy and developmental delays in children, it did not prove cause-and-effect.
The researchers stressed the importance of good seizure control during pregnancy that balances possible harmful effects on the baby's brain development. They said future studies should examine the effects of specific antiepileptic drugs on fetal development and whether these effects continue from early childhood into school age and adulthood.
The Epilepsy Foundation has more about pregnancy and epilepsy drugs.