Epilepsy Drugs May Not Impact Health of Children Exposed in Utero

Children who were exposed to anti-epileptic drugs only had 3% more contacts to their physicians than un-exposed children.

Previous research shows that anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) can lead to cognitive malformations if taken during pregnancy. It has also been found that these drugs impact brain development in children.

Fetal malformations are a serious risk for pregnant woman taking AEDs, especially valproate and phenobarbital. Congenital malformations of fetuses born to mothers taking antiepileptic drugs include heart defects; orofacial clefts; and skeletal, urological, and neural tube defects, according to a session presented at the American Epilepsy Society conference.

Additionally, another study found that pregnant women who require more than 1 AED may further increase their risk of having a child with birth defects.

However, there is little evidence of whether treatment with AEDs can impact a child’s health who was exposed to the drugs during pregnancy. Findings from a new study published by BMJ Open suggest that children exposed to AEDs during development do not visit their physician more often, compared with unexposed children.

These new findings may indicate that exposure to AEDs may not harm a child’s overall health, and can provide reassurance to mothers who must take the drugs during pregnancy.

"Our results are generally reassuring for women who need to take anti-epilepsy medicine during their pregnancy, including women with epilepsy," said researcher Anne Mette Lund Würtz, PhD.

Since AEDs are used to treat seizures, migraines, bipolar disorder, depression, and other conditions, exploring the safety profile of the drug can lead to more informed decisions during pregnancy.

Included in the study were 963,010 children born between 1997 and 2012. Of these children, only 4478 were exposed to AEDs in utero.

The study authors used the prevalence of contacts to their general practitioner (GP) to determine the general health status of children who were and were not exposed to AEDs in utero.

The study authors noted that there was only a 3% difference in GP contacts for children who were and were not exposed to AEDs.

"The small difference we found in the number of contacts is primarily due to a difference in the number of telephone contacts and not to actual visits to the GP,” concluded Dr Würtz. “At the same time, we cannot rule out that the difference in the number of contacts is caused by a small group of children who have more frequent contact with their GP because of illness."