Researchers from the University of Bergen suggest that children exposed to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) before birth are at greater risk of autism – but that the risk could be mitigated by the mother’s supplemental use of folic acid during pregnancy.
The study was revealed in May at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology in Copenhagen.
Led by Marte Bjørk, from the Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Bergen Department of Neurology, and Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway, the study focused on how a mother’s epilepsy affects pregnancy, birth and child development.
Bjørk and her team assessed nearly 58,000 three-year-old children born to mothers with and without epilepsy, in the attempt to identifying autistic traits and variables of interest that could possibly be a cause of or preventative for the disorder. Specifically, which of the mothers did or did not take folic acid during pregnancy, and which of those with epilepsy took or did not take antiepileptic drugs (AEDs).
The results suggested that having a sufficiently high level of folic acid is especially important for pregnant women who have to take AEDs to decrease the risk of autism in the developing fetus. Findings include:
- Twelve percent of the children who were exposed to the effects of AEDs during pregnancy developed signs of autism.
- In women with epilepsy who did not take medication, the rate was only about 3%, and for mothers without epilepsy it was 4%.
- Children of women who took AEDs during pregnancy, and had folic acid supplements during the early stages, were six times less likely to develop autism traits than of those whose mothers took AEDs but no folic acid.
“I feel very strongly that women who are fertile, who in theory could have children, and who use antiepileptic drugs should take folic acid supplements, every day, regardless of pregnancy planning. This inspired our hypothesis that folic acid supplements and folic status in pregnant women with epilepsy could modulate the risk of autistic traits in their children,”Bjørk said in a press release. “For pregnant women with epilepsy, the early administration of folic acid preparations is therefore an absolute must.”