top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaahik Trivedi

Prenatal Exposure To Antiseizure Medication Linked To Autism

New research points to a possible link between epilepsy medicine and autism spectrum disorder (Tomas Petz, Unsplash)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 3.4 million people are diagnosed with epilepsy nationwide. Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes seizures. With such an outstanding number of cases, medications are often used to counteract the symptoms. However, a new study released on March 21 found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children with mothers who had used antiseizure medication during pregnancy.

Seizure Symptoms and Medicine

Seizures are characterized by sudden, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in the brain. It often causes changes in behavior, movement, and level of consciousness. Seizures come in all different types and range in severity, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes. Notable symptoms include temporary confusion, staring spells, jerking movements, loss of consciousness, and cognitive or emotional changes.

Different types of seizures include focal and generalized seizures. Focal seizures refer to electrical activity in one area of the brain, while generalized seizures refer to electrical activity in all areas of the brain. Generalized seizures encompass absence, tonic, atonic, clonic, myoclonic, and tonic-clonic seizures. With the severity of symptoms, seizures must be managed through medication.

New Research

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found an association between valproate, a type of antiseizure medication, and autism spectrum disorder. The study used two databases of nearly 4.3 million pregnant women and their children to conduct their research. Children who had never been exposed to antiseizure medication prenatally were compared to children who had been exposed to topiramate, a type of antiseizure medication, prenatally from week 19 until delivery for their risk of ASD. Valproate was used as a positive control, while lamotrigine was used as a negative control.

The findings found that children at the age of eight born to mothers with epilepsy and taking medication for it had a higher prevalence of ASD compared to children in the general population. Within their databases, 1.9 percent of children who had never been prenatally exposed to antiseizure medication were diagnosed with ASD. However, for children born to mothers with epilepsy, 4.2 percent were diagnosed with ASD. Specific incidence rates for each medication were as follows: 4.1 percent with exposure to lamotrigine, 6.2 percent with topiramate, and 10.5 percent with valproate. After considering different confounding variables, researchers concluded that prenatal exposure to topiramate and lamotrigine is not correlated with additional risk of developing ASD. However, prenatal exposure to valproate increases the risk of ASD for children.

What Does This Mean?

According to drug statistics in the United States, over 700,000 patients are prescribed valproate, indicating danger for children of mothers taking this medication. These new findings suggest that there should be a move away from this medication toward safer alternatives. This study also showcases the unpredictability of medications in their long-term effects, suggesting a need for more research into the field. Advancements in the development of medications have been swift in recent years, and studies like this only showcase the possible dangers of such rapid development.



bottom of page