Researchers have published results suggesting a newly found link between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in mothers of babies who later develop epilepsy.
The research paper is available online in the latest issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, under the title “Parental rheumatoid arthritis and childhood epilepsy.”
RA is an autoimmune disease the causes the body’s own immune system to attack the person’s joints. It’s different from osteoarthritis, which is caused by damaged joints.
The new study found that children who are born to mothers with RA were 26% more likely to develop epilepsy than children born to mothers without the diagnosis – the correlation was found significant only in mothers, not fathers.
“These results suggest that changes in the environment for the fetus may play a role in the development of epilepsy,” Ane Lilleore Rom, PhD, study author and researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, said in a press release. “We don’t know yet how this may work, but it could involve the production of maternal antibodies that could affect the unborn child,” she said.
Danish researchers analyzed the records of two million children born in the country between 1977 and 2008, who had been followed afterwards for an average of 16 years. Of these two million records, researchers found that 31,491 children eventually developed epilepsy (1.6%).
Of those 31,491 children, 13,556 (0.7%) were found to have mothers with clinical and what was considered “pre-clinical” RA – mothers diagnosed with RA after their babies were born.
The authors then compared the records of children born to mothers with clinical RA (who had RA at the time of their birth) with those of children whose mothers had only pre-clinical RA. Findings showed that children whose mothers already had clinical RA at the time of birth were found to be up to 90% more likely to develop epilepsy, while children with mothers who had only pre-clinical RA were found to be 26% more likely to develop the disease.
Summarizing, this means that 2% of children born to mothers with clinical RA eventually developed epilepsy, while for children born to mothers with preclinical RA the number was 3%.
Rom contends these findings suggest that RA itself might be more important than the effect of treatments for the disease, which can be confirmed by the increased risk of epilepsy in pre-clinical cases.
Rom confirmed that a number of studies have shown there is an increased risk of epilepsy for people who have autoimmune diseases that directly involve the brain, such as multiple sclerosis. In this case, RA also was found to increase the risk of epilepsy, even though RA does not directly affect the brain.
“But it is new knowledge that also offspring of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis seem to have an increased risk of developing epilepsy,” Rom added.