Maternal Anti-Seizure Meds May Affect Offspring Chances of Developing ADHD

Nationwide cohort study indicates choice of maternal antiseizure medication during pregnancy has implications for offspring ADHD

Although all potential confounding factors have not been ruled out, these findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain ASMs (i.e., lamotrigine) may be safer than others in pregnancy.

Roughly five of every thousand women (0.5%) have epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions, associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Primary treatment consists of anti-seizure medications (ASMs).

Yet, research has shown that ASMs cross the human placenta. In rodents, ASMs have been shown to lead to abnormal neuronal development, and some research has pointed to the risk of adverse birth outcomes and neurodevelopmental disorders in humans. But samples have been too small for reliable conclusions, and in most cases confounding factors are not addressed.

For a more comprehensive evaluation of risk from ASMs, an international team of researchers examined a nationwide cohort using Swedish national registers that track health outcomes for virtually the entire population.

Using the Medical Birth Register, the National Patient Register, and the Multi-Generation Register, they were able to identify 14,614 children born from 1996-to 2011 to mothers with epilepsy.

Through the prescribed Drug Register, they also examined the first-trimester use of anti-seizure medications (ASMs) by these mothers. The three most frequently used ASMs "frequent enough to yield useful data“ were valproic acid, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine.

The researchers identified ADHD in offspring in one of two ways: ICD-10 (international classification of Diseases, 10th Revision) diagnoses, or filled prescriptions of ADHD medication.

Finally, they consulted the Integrated Database for Labor Market Research and the Education Register to explore potential confounding variables. These included maternal and paternal age at birth, the highest education, cohabitation status, and country of origin. They also included maternal and paternal disposable income in the year of birth and a measure of neighborhood deprivation.

Using the medical registers, they considered parental psychiatric and behavioral problems diagnosed before pregnancy, including bipolar disorder, suicide attempt, schizophrenia diagnosis, substance use disorder, and criminal convictions. They adjusted for inpatient diagnosis of seizures in the year before pregnancy to capture and adjust for indication severity.

Other covariates explored included year of birth, birth order, child sex, maternal-reported smoking during pregnancy, and use of other psychotropic medications.

After fully adjusting for all these confounders, children of mothers who were taking valproic acid were more than 70% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy. The sample size was 699, and the 95% confidence interval stretched from 28% to 138% more likely to develop ADHD.

By contrast, children of mothers who were taking lamotrigine were at absolutely no greater risk(Hazard Ratio = 1) of developing ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy.

Finally, children of mothers who were taking carbamazepine were 18% more likely to develop ADHD than those of mothers not taking an anti-seizure medicine during pregnancy, but this result was not statistically significant (the 95% confidence interval ranged from 9% less likely to 52% more likely).

The authors concluded, "The present study did not find support for a causal association between maternal use of lamotrigine in pregnancy and ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] and ADHD in children. We observed an elevated risk of ASD and ADHD related to maternal use of valproic acid, while associations with carbamazepine were weak and not statistically significant. Although we could not rule out all potential confounding factors, our findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain ASMs (i.e., lamotrigine) may be safer than others in pregnancy."

February 17, 2022

Breastfeeding associated with an almost 2/3 reduction in risk of ADHD

Breastfeeding associated with an almost 2/3 reduction in risk of ADHD

Preschool children who were never breastfed as infants are much more likely to have a medical diagnosis of ADHD than are children who were exclusively breastfed as infants.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of infancy and continuation of breastfeeding for at least a year thereafter. Yet less than a third of U.S. mothers are still breastfeeding their infants at 12 months.

Previous studies have suggested that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of ADHD. But sample sizes have been small, and have not sufficiently explored confounding factors.

Using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2011-2012 National Survey of Children's Health, a research team analyzed data from a representative U.S. sample of 12,793 three- to five-year-old children.

The team excluded children with autism, developmental delays, speech problems, Tourette syndrome, epilepsy or seizure disorder, hearing problems, non-correctable vision problems, bone/joint/muscle problems, brain injury/concussion, or any current behavioral/conduct problems other than ADHD.

The team also adjusted for potential confounders. Some were demographic: sex, age, race, household income, the number of adults older than 18 years of age living in the home, and the number of children younger than the age of 18 years living in the home. Other variables related to health care access and delivery: insurance type, consistency of health insurance in the past 12 months, and a composite variable reflecting having a primary care provider, getting needed referrals, and effective care coordination. Exposure to secondhand smoke and preterm births were other key variables.

In the fully adjusted results, children who had been breastfed for at least six months were 62% less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than those who had not (p = .0483). Moreover, each month of breastfeeding duration was associated with a significant additional 8% reduction in the odds of an ADHD diagnosis (95% confidence interval from 1% to 14%).

The authors concluded, "Preschool children who were never breastfed as infants were much more likely to have a medical diagnosis of ADHD than were children who were exclusively breastfed. Moreover, there seems to be a continuum of neuroprotective benefits associated with breastfeeding duration. Although these analyses cannot establish a causal relationship, our findings add to a growing body of literature-including several longitudinal studies and a meta-analysis-that suggests breastfeeding may reduce the likelihood of a child having later problems with inattention and/or hyperactivity. Although follow-up studies are needed to further examine the relationship between infant feeding and ADHD, these findings provide evidence to support the neurodevelopmental benefits of breastfeeding."

January 28, 2022

CDC: Prescriptions for ADHD Medications in Reproductive Age Women on Rise

CDC Reports increase in prescriptions for ADHD Medications in Reproductive Age Women

The CDC recently reported that ADHD medication use in women ages 15 to 44 increased from 0.9 percent to 4 percent from 2003 to 2015.  The most commonly used medications were formulations of amphetamine or methylphenidate.  

This increase in treatment for ADHD suggests that educational programs such as have been effective in teaching clinicians how to identify and treat the disorder.   The 4 percent rate reported by the CDC is encouraging because it is close to what Ron Kessler and colleagues reported as the prevalence of adult ADHD in the population.   CDC correctly points out that little is known about the effects of ADHD medications on pregnancies. Thus, caution is warranted.

Oei et al.'s review of amphetamines concluded: "There is little evidence of amphetamine-induced neurotoxicity and long-term neurodevelopmental impact, as data is scarce and difficult to extricate from the influence of other factors associated with children living in households where one or more parent uses drugs in terms of poverty and neglect. ... We suggest that exposed children may be at risk of ongoing developmental and behavioral impediment, and recommend that efforts be made to improve early detection of perinatal exposure and to increase the provision of early intervention services for affected children and their families"

Bolea-Alamanac et al.'s review of methylphenidate effects concluded: "There is a paucity of data regarding the use of methylphenidate in pregnancy and further studies are required. Although the default medical position is to interrupt any non-essential pharmacological treatment during pregnancy and lactation, in ADHD this may present a significant risk. Doctors need to evaluate each case carefully before interrupting treatment." These words of caution should be heeded by clinicians caring for women of reproductive age.

June 28, 2021

How To Best Manage ADHD During Pregnancy to Minimize Risk to Offspring

How can women best manage ADHD during pregnancy to minimize risk to their babies?

Roughly one in thirty adult women have ADHD. Research results indicate that psychostimulants (methylphenidate and amphetamines) offer the most effective course of treatment in most instances. But during pregnancy, such treatment also exposes the fetus to these drugs. Several studies have set out to determine whether such exposure is harmful.

The largest comparison was 5,571 infants exposed to amphetamines and 2,072 exposed to methylphenidate with unexposed infants. It found no increased risks for adverse outcomes due to amphetamine or methylphenidate exposures. Another study studied 3,331 infants exposed to amphetamines, 1,515 exposed to methylphenidate, and 453 to atomoxetine. Comparing these infants to unexposed infants, it found a slightly increased risk of preeclampsia, with an adjusted risk ratio of 1.29 (95% CI 1.11-1.49), but no statistically significant effect for placental abruption, small gestational age, and preterm birth. When assessing the two stimulants, amphetamine, and methylphenidate, together, it found a small increased risk of preterm birth, with an adjusted risk ratio of 1.3 (95% CI 1.10-1.55). There was a statistically significant effect for preeclampsia, placental abruption, or small gestational age. Atomoxetine use was free of any indication of increased risk.

Another study involving 1,591 infants exposed to ADHD medication (mostly methylphenidate) during pregnancy, reported increased risks associated with exposure. The adjusted odds ratio for admission to a neonatal intensive care unit was 1.5 (95% CI 1.3-1.7), and for the central nervous system, disorders were 1.9 (95% CI 1.1-3.1). There was no increased risk for congenital malformations or perinatal death.

Six studies focused on methylphenidate exposure. Two, with a combined total of 402 exposed infants, found no increased risk for malformations. Another, with 208 exposed infants, found a slightly greater risk of cardiovascular malformations, but it was not statistically significant. A fourth, with 186 exposed infants, found no increased risk of malformations but did find a higher rate of miscarriage, with an adjusted hazard ratio of 1.98(95% CI 1.23-3.20). A fifth, with 480 exposed infants, also found a higher rate of miscarriage, with an odds ratio of 2.07 (95% CI 1.51-2.84). But although the sixth, with 382 exposed infants, likewise found an increased risk of miscarriage (adjusted relative risk 1.55 with 95% CI1.03-2.06), it also found an identical risk for women with ADHD who were not on medication during their pregnancies (adjusted relative risk 1.56with 95% CI 1.11-2.20). That finding suggests that all women with ADHD have a higher risk of miscarriage, and that methylphenidate exposure is not the causal factor.

Summing up, while some studies have shown increased adverse effects among infants exposed to maternal ADHD medications, most have not. There are indications that higher rates of miscarriage are associated with maternal ADHD rather than fetal exposure to psychostimulant medications. One study did find a small increased risk of central nervous system disorders and admission to a neonatal intensive care unit. But, again, we do not know whether that was due to exposure to psychostimulant medication or associated with maternal ADHD. If there is a risk, it appears to be a small one.

The question then becomes how to balance that as yet uncertain risk against the disadvantage of discontinuing the effective psychostimulant medication. As the authors of this review conclude. It [ADHD] is associated with significant psychiatric comorbidities for women, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, driving safety impairment, and occupational impairment. The gold standard treatment includes behavioral therapy and stimulant medication, namely methylphenidate and amphetamine derivatives. Psychostimulant use during pregnancy continues to increase and has been associated with a small increased relative risk of a range of obstetric concerns. However, the absolute increases in risks are small, and many of the best studies to date are confounded by other medication use and medical comorbidities.

Thus, women with moderate-to-severe ADHD should not necessarily be counseled to suspend their ADHD treatment based on these findings. They advise that when functional impairment from ADHD is moderate to severe, the benefits of stimulant medications may outweigh the small known and unknown risks of medication exposure, and that "If a decision is made to take ADHD medication, women should be informed of the known risks and benefits of the medication use in pregnancy, and take the lowest therapeutic dose possible."

June 18, 2021

Does Obesity Directly Contribute to Risk of ADHD in Offspring?

Does Acetaminophen use During Pregnancy Cause ADHD in Offspring?

Many media outlets have reported on a study suggesting that mothers who use acetaminophen during pregnancy may put their unborn child at risk for ADHD. Given that acetaminophen is used in many over-the-counter painkillers, correctly reporting such information is crucial. As usual, rather than relying on one study, looking at the big picture using all available studies is best. Because it is not possible to examine this issue with a randomized trial, we must rely on naturalistic studies.

One registry study ( that fetal exposure to acetaminophen predicted an increased risk of ADHD with a risk ratio of 1.37. The risk was dose-dependent, in the sense that it increased with increased maternal use of acetaminophen. Of particular note, the authors made sure that their results were not accounted for by potential confounds (e.g., maternal fever, inflammation, and infection). Similar results were reported by another group (, which also showed that the risk for ADHD was not predicted by maternal use of aspirin, antacids, or antibiotics. But that study only found an increased risk at age 7 (risk ratio = 2.0) not at age 11. In a Spanish study, (, children exposed prenatally to acetaminophen were more likely to show symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity later in life. The risk ratio was small (1.1) but it increased with the frequency of prenatal acetaminophen use by their mothers.

We can draw a few conclusions from these studies. There does seem to be aweak, yet real, the association between maternal use of acetaminophen while pregnant and subsequent ADHD or ADHD symptoms in the exposed child. The association is weak in several ways: there are not many studies, they are all naturalistic, and the risk ratios are small. So mothers that have used acetaminophen during pregnancy and have an ADHD child should not conclude that their acetaminophen usecausedtheir child's ADHD. On the other hand, pregnant women who are considering the use of acetaminophen for fever or pain should discuss other options with their physician. As with many medical decisions, one must balance competing for risks to make an informed decision.

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March 14, 2021