February 17, 2022
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."
Kelsey K. Wiggs, Martin E. Rickert, Ayesha C. Sujan, Patrick. Quinn, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lichtenstein, A. Sara Oberg, and Brian Onofrio, "Antiseizure medication use during pregnancy and risk of ASD and ADHD in children" Neurology(2020),95:e3232-e3240, published online,https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000010993.