According to a study published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, children exposed to antidepressants in the womb have an increased risk of being diagnosed with epilepsy later on if their mothers are also diagnosed with depression during pregnancy*. A child’s risk of epilepsy also appears to increase if its mother takes antidepressants 2-6 months before, but not during, pregnancy.
Interestingly, the findings suggest that if a women takes antidepressants during pregnancy, but does not receive a clinical diagnosis of depression during this time, their child’s risk of epilepsy does not increase.
The study, conducted at Aarhus University Hospital, in Denmark, identified 734,237 Danish children born between 1997 and 2008. The researchers used the Danish National Registers to collect information about their epilepsy diagnoses, and about their mothers’ use of antidepressants and diagnoses of depression.
The results showed that, of the 734,237 children, 12,438 (1.7%) were born to women who took antidepressants between one month prior to conception and delivery. Amongst these 12,438, 5829 (0.8%) were diagnosed with epilepsy an average of 6.7 years later.
The researchers calculated that the children exposed to antidepressants before birth had (overall) a 27% higher risk of epilepsy compared with the children who were not exposed to antidepressants.
They then separated the data for cases where the mother took antidepressants during pregnancy and received (1)/ did not receive (2) a clinical diagnosis of depression during pregnancy. They found that for (1) the children had a 71% increased risk of epilepsy compared with unexposed children, but that for (2) there was actually no increase in risk compared with the unexposed group. This suggests that depression itself during pregnancy has an effect on the baby’s future epilepsy risk.
Children of women who took antidepressants 2-6 months before pregnancy, but not during pregnancy, were found to have a 36% increased risk of epilepsy compared with unexposed children. However, these women had a number of characteristics that could, themselves, have influenced the baby’s epilepsy risk; e.g. the women were more likely to be older, to have a history of epilepsy/psychiatric disorders and to take antiepileptic/antipsychotic drugs.
The authors acknowledge that this study has a number of limitations, and they recommend further research to verify their findings. They also emphasise the need to differentiate the effects of antidepressant medication and depression itself on epilepsy risk.
*In this article, reference to the diagnosis of depression ‘during pregnancy’ also extends to a diagnosis in the six months prior to pregnancy.
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