Findings from the University of Bergen, presented at the Congress of the European Academy of Neurology, in Copenhagen, suggest that the increased risk of autism among children exposed to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) before birth could be reduced if the woman takes folic acid supplements during pregnancy.
During the study, approximately 58,000 three-year-old children born to mothers with and without epilepsy were assessed for autistic traits. The researchers also established which of the mothers had/had not taken folic acid during pregnancy, and which of those with epilepsy had/had not taken AEDs.
The results showed that 12% 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%.
It was also shown that the 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.
Study leader Dr Marte Helene Bjork, from the University of Bergen, said: “The lower the folate concentration in the plasma during pregnancy, the worse the children fared later at age three in the test to determine the degree of autistic traits. For pregnant women with epilepsy, the early administration of folic acid preparations is therefore an absolute must.”
The findings further elucidate the specific challenges that women with epilepsy face in managing their epilepsy and finding the right treatment for their condition during pregnancy.
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