Taking valproic acid during pregnancy correlated with an increased risk of autism and ADHD in infants

During pregnancy, the consumption of the anticonvulsant drug valproic acid for epilepsy may substantially increase the risk of having a newborn with autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a new study suggests.

As published in Neurology, the new study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology examined more than 14,000 children born to female participants diagnosed with epilepsy throughout the late-90s, 2000s, and early 2010s.

Among the participants, nearly 23 percent reported consuming the anticonvulsant drug during the first trimester of pregnancy. Another widely consumed anticonvulsant was carbamazepine.

Following the medical records of the children after birth, it was unveiled that a significant amount of them went on to develop autism and ADHD. 36 out of the 699 who were exposed to valproic acid during pregnancy were diagnosed with autism by age 10. 54 out of the 699 children developed ADHD, after exposure to valproic acid.

Although the study evaluated the use of other common anticonvulsants during pregnancy, valproic acid was apparently the only such medication for epilepsy that resulted in such a high risk for a psychiatric disorder.

“While we did not find that the drugs directly caused autism or ADHD, our study expands upon prior work on birth outcomes by demonstrating a link between valproic acid and longer-term problems,” the co-authors argued in a news release.

“Our findings suggest that women who use antiseizure medications, particularly valproic acid, should weigh potential harm to the fetus, as well as ongoing seizure management, in their decision-making with their doctors if they are considering becoming pregnant.”

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