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Epilepsy Drug May Raise Autism Risk in Offspring
Date:12/3/2008

Yet another reason pregnant women should avoid this medication, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Women taking the epilepsy drug valproate while pregnant are at increased risk of delivering a child who develops autism.

The British findings, appearing in the Dec. 2 issue of Neurology, add to previous research showing that valproate and other anti-epilepsy drugs can contribute to birth defects (particularly neural tube defects).

"There's a fair amount of early data that indicates, for instance, that valproate may cause neural tube closure problems. That's an indication that valproate affects brain development," said Dr. Michel Berg, medical director of the Strong Epilepsy Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "That's an indication that valproate affects brain development. It's not surprising that it might affect other aspects of brain development."

Physicians are already cautious about prescribing valproate and other drugs to pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant, however.

"I don't think this will change practice dramatically," said Dr. Jeffrey P. Brosco, an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and director of clinical services at the Mailman Center for Child Development in Miami. "This reaffirms that there is a lot of reason to try to avoid this drug if there is another available."

Reassuringly, added Berg, the study did not seem to find a substantial increase in the development of autism spectrum disorders among the children of women who had taken another anti-seizure drug, lamotrigine (brand name Lamictal), while pregnant.

Drugs for this condition have encountered other problems. Previous studies have also found that pregnant women who use the epilepsy drug topiramate (brand name Topamax) alone or in combination with other epilepsy drugs may be increasing their risk of birt
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