Valproate Use During Pregnancy Linked to Autism

Mothers who take the epilepsy drug <"">valproate (sold under the brand names Depacon and Depakene) during pregnancy may face an increased risk of having a  child who will develop autism, a new study has found..  The British researchers who worked on the study, published in the journal Neurology, have recommended that pregnant women taking valproate be informed of the possible risks of autism and discuss the issue with their doctors.

The valproate study, conducted by researchers at the Liverpool and Manchester Neurodevelopment Group, involved 632 children and a variety of epilepsy drugs. None of the children in the study had any known family history of autism.  According to Science Daily, 64 children  were exposed in utero to valproate, 44 to lamotrigine (brand name Lamictal), 76 to carbamazepine (sold under a variety of brand names, including Tegretol) and 65 to other epilepsy drugs.

Among the children in the study, nine have been diagnosed with autism and one has shown symptoms of the disorder, Science Daily said.  Of those children, seven were exposed to an epilepsy drug before birth, and four of those had been exposed to valproate.  A fifth child’s mother took a combination of valproate and lamotrigine, Science Daily said.

The study indicates that children born to women who took valproate during pregnancy were seven times more likely to develop autism than those not exposed to any epilepsy medication.  The increased risk was not seen with the other epilepsy drugs, Science Daily said.

The researchers who conducted the valproate autism study cautioned that their findings were preliminary, but still significant.  “The potential risk for autism in this study was substantial for children whose mothers took valproate while pregnant, but more research needs to be done since these are early findings,” study author Gus Baker, PhD, FBPsS, of the University of Liverpool, said in a press release. “However, women who take valproate while pregnant should be informed of the possible risks of autism and are encouraged to discuss them with their doctor.”

This is not the first time valproate use during pregnancy has been linked to problems in children.  Earlier this year, another study published in Neurology found that women taking valproate along with the migraine medication Topamax were 11 times more likely to give birth to a baby with birth defects than those taking Topamax alone.  Defects seen in that study included genital birth defects in male babies, a hole above the buttocks, a flattened head, toe webbing, clicky hips and immature hip joints.

Previous research has also shown that valproate is associated with an increased risk of birth defects such as heart defects and spina bifida.

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