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Link Between Epilepsy Drug and ASD

By Stacy W. Kish on May 8, 2013


Background: Prenatal exposure to certain medications can affect embryonic and fetal development. For some women of childbearing age, the need to take medication before or during pregnancy is vital. Valproate, for example, is used to treat epilepsy and psychiatric conditions. Previous studies have drawn a tentative link between valproate use during pregnancy and an elevated autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk in children.


What’s new: A new study published April 24, 2013 in the Journal of the American Medical Association evaluated ASD risk from prenatal exposure to valproate for all children born in Denmark between 1996 and 2006. Of the children with prenatal exposure to valproate (due to being born to mothers with epilepsy) approximately 4.1% received an ASD diagnoses with 2.9% receiving a diagnosis of severe childhood autism. For children born to mothers with epilepsy but not exposed to valproate in the womb, only 2.44% developed ASD and 1.02% developed severe childhood autism.


Why it’s important: This study suggests that prenatal exposure to valproate significantly increases a child’s risk of ASD and severe childhood autism. However, the study did not evaluate the associated risk of seizures during pregnancy (should the mother fail to take anti-seizure medication) to the development of autism in the offspring. The authors of the study suggest that women of childbearing age should discuss the use of valproate compared to alternate medications with their doctors.

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