Pregnant women taking epileptic drugs up to 2.5 times more likely to have a child with autism.

Women who take epileptic drugs during pregnancy may be significantly more likely to have a child with autism or learning disabilities, research suggests.

A study of 4.5 million children found that rates of the condition were twice as high in young people whose mothers were on topiramate or valproate.

The overall incidence of autism and learning disabilities in children born to women not on the drugs was 1.5 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively.

But among children whose mothers took topiramate during pregnancy, rates of autism rose to 4.3 percent and learning disabilities to 3.1 percent.

Mothers who took valproate were also more likely to have a child with autism (2.7 percent) or had learning disabilities (2.4 percent).

It is not clear how many pregnant mothers in the UK or US are on the medications, which are among the most commonly prescribed in both countries.

But about 2,500 British women with epilepsy and 25,000 Americans give birth each year.

The UK’s drug regulator warns that women should avoid drugs during pregnancy due to concerns about birth defects.

Mothers who took valproate (pictured) were also more likely to have a child with autism (2.7 percent) or learning disabilities (2.4 percent)

A study of 4.5 million children in the Nordic countries found that 1.5 percent of young people born to mothers who were not taking medication were autistic, while 0.8 percent had learning disabilities. But rates are hovering among mothers taking topiramate (left), with 4.3 percent of young people having autism and 3.1 percent being diagnosed with learning disabilities by the age of eight. Mothers who took valproate (right) were also more likely to have a child with autism (2.7 percent) or learning disabilities (2.4 percent)

The graphs show the risk of a child developing autism (left), intellectual disability (middle), any neurological disorder (right) based on whether or not their mother took epileptic medication (upper row) or not (lower row).  The graph shows that drugs, including topiramate and valproate, are more at risk for children

The graphs show the risk of a child developing autism (left), intellectual disability (middle), any neurological disorder (right) based on whether or not their mother took epileptic medication (upper row) or not (lower row). The graph shows that drugs, including topiramate and valproate, are more at risk for children

One in 200 pregnant women requires anti-seizure medication during pregnancy and the figure is rising.

Those who stop taking the drugs before or during pregnancy are at risk of having uncontrolled seizures and dying.

Doctors and patients are put in a difficult position because some epileptic medications can cause mental or physical impairment in babies, the researchers said.

Earlier studies have shown that valproate triggers a three to fivefold increase in the risk of autism or intellectual disability in young people.

But new research, led by the University of Bergen in Norway, has found that the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders after exposure to other epileptic drugs “remains uncertain despite their frequent use”.

They looked at the medical records of all children born in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the two decades to 2017.

NHS scandal over doctors giving pregnant women epileptic drug known to cause birth defects

The NHS is facing a thalidomide-style scandal over doctors prescribing an epileptic drug to pregnant women that could cause birth defects, it was claimed last night.

Sodium valproate was hailed as a new drug for epileptics because it helped control seizures and epileptic seizures, but reports began to emerge in the 1980s from babies with birth defects to mothers who took the medication during pregnancy.

Two years ago, a report criticized doctors for failing to inform women about the dangers of the drug and said they had not yet told women the full story during a prescription.

According to The Sunday Times, the controversial drug is still being handed over by the NHS, in an empty package with no instructions or warning labels.

The latest figures, released in March, show that the drug was given to 247 pregnant women between April 2018 and September 2021. About six fetuses are exposed to the drug every month.

Activists fear the drug could pose the same lethal risk as thalidomide, the drug prescribed for morning sickness in pregnant women that killed 100,000 babies and left 10,000 severely disabled by the time it was withdrawn in 1961.

The data was then matched to their mothers, with pregnancy health records and prescriptions examined.

They looked at the 10 most common epileptic drugs that 16,170 mothers took.

With regulators warning pregnant women against taking valproate and topiramate, safety data on other treatments were “urgently needed,” they said.

Children were considered exposed to an epileptic medication if their mothers had at least one prescription between her last period before becoming pregnant and when she gave birth.

The findings, published in the journal JAMA NeurologyShow pregnant topiramate users were 2.8 times more likely to have an autistic child and 3.5 times more likely to have a child with learning disabilities.

Meanwhile, it was 2.4 times more common for expectant mothers taking valproate to have an autistic child and 2.5 times more likely to have a child with a learning disability.

Epileptic seizures are caused by electrical signals in the brain that become mixed and sudden bursts of electrical activity.

Both topiramate and valproate, which cost about 6p per tablet and are also prescribed for migraines, work by reducing these excessive bursts and restoring the normal balance of nerve activity.

The NHS warns that prescription medications that are taken once or twice a day as tablets or capsules can cause problems in pregnancy.

A baby’s brain develops until the end of pregnancy, so medications that target a mother’s brain can affect how her baby develops.

Topiramate is linked to a higher risk of problems in babies if it is taken during pregnancy, so pregnant mothers are advised to take it only if the benefits outweigh the risk, says the health service.

Valproate can trigger birth defects and long-term learning difficulties, so it is not recommended for women seeking to become pregnant.

The latest study also found that the higher the dose of both drugs, the greater the risk of neurological problems in children.

Mothers who took less than 100mg a day of topiramate were 1.7 times more likely to have a child with any neurodevelopmental condition.

The risk jumped to 2.9 times higher if they took more than 100mg a day.

The NHS recommends that epileptic sufferers take 100mg to 400mg daily.

For valproate, babies of mothers taking less than 750mg were 2.3 times more likely to have a neurological problem, with the figure rising to 5.6 times higher if their dose was above 750mg per day.

A daily dose of 600 mg to 2,500 mg is usually prescribed for British people with epilepsy.

But the researchers did not notice a higher risk of neurodevelopmental disorders among babies exposed to eight of the other most popular antiepileptic drugs when taken on their own.

These are: lamotrigine, levetiracetam, carbamazepine, okcarbazepine, gapapentin, pregabalin, clonazepam and phenobarbital.

The study comes after the NHS came under fire after it emerged that doctors had not informed pregnant women of the potential risks of valproate to their baby.

An investigation found that the drug was still being donated by the NHS, in an empty package with no instructions or warning labels.

The latest figures, released in March, show that the drug was given to 247 pregnant women between April 2018 and September 2021. About six fetuses are exposed to the drug every month.

Activists fear the drug could pose the same lethal risk as thalidomide, the drug prescribed for morning sickness in pregnant women that killed 100,000 babies and left 10,000 severely disabled by the time it was withdrawn in 1961.

NHS England is working to reduce the use of sodium valproate by women, who could become pregnant by 50 per cent next year.

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