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Prenatal Use of Common Epilepsy Drug Tied to Higher Autism Risk
Date:4/23/2013

otential may only become seizure-free when treated with valproate. Seizures during pregnancy may have serious effects on both the mother and the unborn child. Therefore, the doctors and pregnant women will have to balance the risk associated with seizures during pregnancy with the risk of congenital malformations and other potential adverse outcomes in the exposed children. In addition, not all pregnancies are planned and therefore, some children may unintentionally be exposed to valproate."

He noted that the use of valproate in women of childbearing years has gone down in recent years, but because of the reasons he mentioned, there will likely always be some women in their childbearing years taking the drug.

Both Christensen and Meador said they believe that valproate might increase the risk of autism and autism spectrum disorders by altering the development of nerve cells in the brain. The drug doesn't necessarily destroy the developing cells, but changes them in a way that makes it harder for the cells to work and communicate with each other the way they're supposed to.

Although the study tied the use of valproate in pregnancy to higher autism risk in children, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

Learn more about the potential risks of valproate from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

SOURCES: Jakob Christensen, Ph.D., consultant neurologist, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark; Kimford Meador, M.D., professor of neurology, Emory University, Atlanta; April 24, 2013, Journal of the American Medical Association


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