Epilepsy medication linked to poor school test results

28 March 2018 09:33

Children exposed to epilepsy drugs in the womb could achieve poorer test results at school

Children exposed to epilepsy drugs in the womb could achieve poorer test results at school

Children exposed to epilepsy drugs in the womb may achieve poorer test results at school, a study has suggested.

Youngsters whose mothers were prescribed certain treatments to control seizures during pregnancy went on to perform worse than their peers in Key Stage One tests, according to recent research published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Prospective mothers need to be fully informed of the risks and benefits of epilepsy drugs before their pregnancy, the authors said.

Different drugs give varying results

The study, conducted by researchers from Swansea University, examined the academic performance of 440 children in Wales born to mothers who suffered from epilepsy.

Seven-year-olds born to mothers prescribed carbamazepine, lamotrigine or no drugs at all performed just as well in Key Stage One tests as those born to mothers of the same age and deprivation level, but without epilepsy.

However, the children of women given sodium valproate during pregnancy performed 10.5 to 13% worse in maths, language and science tests, and those whose mothers were prescribed a combination of epilepsy drugs achieved results which were 19 to 22% lower.

Link with neurodevelopmental disorders

Women with epilepsy who take drugs to control seizures are currently advised to continue taking them during pregnancy, as convulsions can harm both mother and baby.

But previous studies have linked medicines, particularly sodium valproate, with neurodevelopmental disorders.

In February, Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the launch of a review into patient concerns over medicines including sodium valproate.

Dr Owen Pickrell and Professor Mark Rees, who led the study, said: "While this study highlights the risk of cognitive effects in the children of mothers prescribed sodium valproate or multiple (anti-epilepsy drugs), it is important to acknowledge that some epilepsies are difficult to treat without these treatment regimens."

They added: "Women with epilepsy should be informed of this risk and alternative treatment regimens should be discussed before their pregnancy with a physician that specialises in epilepsy."

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