Obesity During Pregnancy Boosts Risk of Childhood Epilepsy, Study Finds

Obesity During Pregnancy Boosts Risk of Childhood Epilepsy, Study Finds

Maternal obesity may lead to increased rates of childhood epilepsy.

That is the finding of researchers in Sweden who conducted the study “Maternal Body Mass Index in Early Pregnancy and Risk of Epilepsy in Offspring.” Their study was published recently in JAMA Neurology.

Epilepsy, a common neurological disorder of childhood, affects more than 50 million worldwide. The development of epilepsy is still poorly understood, with more than 60% of cases lacking an exact cause. However, epilepsy has been associated with preterm birth weight, congenital anomalies and neonatal convulsions.

Obesity in pregnancy also may play a role in developing epilepsy, according to the researchers. Defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater, severe obesity has been linked to systemic inflammation, hormonal changes, folic acid deficiency, congenital anomalies and insulin resistance. The risk of birth-related injuries and asphyxia also increases with maternal obesity, which subsequently may influence neurologic development.

To further investigate the relationship between BMI in pregnancy and the risk of developing childhood epilepsy, researchers conducted a study of more than 1.4 million live births at 22 weeks of gestational age or older. Data was acquired through a national Swedish registry on children born between 1997 and 2011. The incidence of epilepsy in offspring aged 28 days to 16 years was then compared between obese and non-obese mothers.

The researchers found that maternal obesity was associated with an increased risk of childhood epilepsy. Notably, the risk increased along with body mass index (BMI) in a dose-response manner. The study also found that several asphyxia-related neonatal complications were associated with increased rates of epilepsy. Rates of epilepsy also were higher in children whose mothers had epilepsy, gestational diabetes and preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

“This population-based study demonstrates that the risk of epilepsy in offspring increased with maternal BMI category in a dose-response pattern.Furthermore, our study provides strong evidence that asphyxia-related neonatal complications, as well as less severe neonatal complications, including neonatal hypoglycemia, jaundice, and respiratory distress, independently increase the risk of childhood epilepsy,” the researchers wrote.

As being overweight or obese are modifiable risk factors, researchers stress that improved public health strategies may help to decrease the incidence of childhood epilepsy.

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James Frederick is a practicing Physician Associate (PA-C, MMSc) who studied at Yale University. He also has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and English Literature from the University of Colorado. He specializes in writing medical content that is approachable, readable and enjoyable. He has a strong background in research, physiology, pharmacotherapy, emergency medicine and critical care medicine. In his free time, he enjoys spending time camping and traveling with his wife and dog.

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