A study of 4.5 million children in the Nordic countries found that 1.5% of youngsters born to mothers not taking medication had autism, while 0.8% had learning disabilities.  But rates have soared among mothers taking topiramate (pictured), with 4.3% of youngsters with autism and 3.1% diagnosed with learning difficulties aged eight

Pregnant women taking epilepsy drugs up to 2.5 times more likely to have an autistic child

Women who take epilepsy medication during pregnancy may be much more likely to have a child with autism or learning disabilities, research shows.

A study of 4.5 million children found that rates of these conditions were twice as high in young people whose mothers took topiramate or valproate.

The overall incidence of autism and learning disabilities in children born to drug-free women was 1.5% and 0.8%, respectively.

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

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

It’s unclear how many pregnant women in the UK or US are taking the drugs, which are among the most commonly prescribed in both countries.

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

The UK medicines regulator is warning women to avoid drugs during pregnancy due to birth defects concerns.

A study of 4.5 million children in the Nordic countries found that 1.5% of youngsters born to mothers not taking medication had autism, while 0.8% had learning disabilities.  But rates have soared among mothers taking topiramate (pictured), with 4.3% of youngsters with autism and 3.1% diagnosed with learning difficulties aged eight

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

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

Graphs show the risk of a child developing autism (left), intellectual disability (middle), any neurological disorder (right) depending on whether their mother took medication for epilepsy (top row) or not (bottom row).  Chart shows drugs including topiramate and valproate put children at increased risk

Graphs show the risk of a child developing autism (left), intellectual disability (middle), any neurological disorder (right) depending on whether their mother took medication for epilepsy (top row) or not (bottom row). Chart shows drugs including topiramate and valproate put children at increased risk

One in 200 pregnant women need anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy and this figure is increasing.

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

Doctors and patients are put in a difficult position because some epilepsy drugs are known to trigger mental or physical defects in babies, the researchers said.

Previous studies have shown that valproate triggers a three to five-fold increase in the risk of autism or intellectual disability in young people.

But the new research, led by the University of Bergen in Norway, found that the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders after exposure to other epilepsy drugs “remains unclear 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 leading up to 2017.

NHS scandal as doctors give pregnant women epilepsy drug known to cause birth defects

The NHS is facing a thalidomide-like scandal over doctors prescribing an epilepsy drug to pregnant women which is known to cause birth defects, it was claimed last night.

Sodium valproate was hailed as a breakthrough drug for epileptics as it helped control seizures and convulsions, but reports began to surface in the 1980s of babies with abnormalities born to mothers who took the medication during pregnancy.

Two years ago, a report criticized doctors’ failure to tell women about the dangers of the drug and said they still don’t tell women the full story when prescribing.

According to The Sunday Times, the controversial drug is still being distributed by the NHS, in blank packaging with no instructions or warning labels.

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

Campaigners fear the drug poses the same deadly 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 compared to that of their mothers, with pregnancy health records and prescriptions reviewed.

They looked at the 10 most common antiepileptic drugs, which 16,170 mothers were taking.

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

Children were considered exposed to epilepsy drugs if their mother had at least one prescription between her last menstrual period before she became pregnant and the time she gave birth.

The results, published in the journal JAMA Neurologyshow that pregnant topiramate users were 2.8 times more likely to have a child with autism and 3.5 times more likely to have a child with learning difficulties.

Meanwhile, pregnant women taking valproate were 2.4 times more likely to have a child with autism and 2.5 times more likely to have a child with a learning disability.

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

Topiramate and valproate, which cost around 6 pence a tablet and are also prescribed for migraines, work by reducing these excessive flare-ups and restoring the normal balance of nerve activity.

The NHS warns that prescription-only medicines, which are taken once or twice a day in tablet or capsule form, can cause problems during pregnancy.

A baby’s brain develops until the end of pregnancy, so drugs that target the mother’s brain can affect the development of her child’s brain.

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

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

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

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

The risk increased to 2.9 times higher if they took more than 100 mg per day.

The NHS recommends people with epilepsy take 100mg to 400mg per day.

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 600mg to 2500mg is usually prescribed for Brits with epilepsy.

But the researchers found no increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in babies exposed to eight of the other most popular antiepileptic drugs, when taken alone.

These are: lamotrigine, levetiracetam, carbamazepine, oxcarbazepine, gapapentine, pregabalin, clonazepam and phenobarbital.

The study comes after the NHS came under fire after it emerged doctors were failing to tell pregnant women about the potential risks of valproate to their babies.

An investigation found the drug is still being dispensed by the NHS, in blank packaging with no instructions or warning labels.

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

Campaigners fear the drug poses the same deadly 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 at risk of becoming pregnant by 50% next year.

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