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Exposure to Anti-Epileptic Drug in the Womb Raises Autism Risk

Update Date: Jan 31, 2013 04:32 AM EST
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According to a new study, women taking the antiepileptic drug sodium valproate during pregnancy may be raising the risk of the child in developing autism and other mental disorders.

Epilepsy, according to PubMed Health, is a condition where the person has repeated seizures.

The study was based on a small study sample of about 528 pregnant women between 2000 and 2004 in the North West of England.

In the study group, 234 mothers had epilepsy, of which 200 took the antiepileptic drugs when they were pregnant. About 59 of these women took valproate; 59 took carbamazepine and the rest took other antiepileptic drugs.

The study analysis showed that children born to mothers who had epilepsy had a higher risk of developing mental disorders than children born to women without the condition. Some 19 children had developed some form of mental disorder including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyspraxia - a condition where the child has significant problems in doing tasks that require co-ordination, according to a news release.

Also, the research showed that children whose mothers took the antiepileptic drug valproate were more likely to have neurodevelopment problems than children whose mothers had taken other drugs for the condition. After accounting for other factors, researchers found that valproate alone increased the odds of a mental disorder in the child by 6 times, while using valproate with other drugs increased the risk by 10 times.

Another recent study on valproate found that the drug was associated with reduced IQ of children.

However, researchers say that women must not stop taking the antiepileptic drug based on the findings of this study alone.

"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," write the authors."But on no account should pregnant women just stop taking the drug for fear of harming their developing child," the authors cautioned.

The study is published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social and communication difficulties along with repetitive behaviors, says The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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