Newer epilepsy drugs may not impact baby’s IQ

Newer epilepsy medications may not have a negative impact on a baby’s cognitive development if taken during pregnancy, new research has determined.  

Risks associated with an older medication, valproate, were also confirmed during the latest study, however, the results of which were published online this month in the respected journal Neurology.

The Epilepsy Research UK-funded study has shown that taking the antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) levetiracetam or topiramate during pregnancy may not have a negative impact on the baby’s IQ and thinking skills.

The researchers used data from the UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy Register to identify 171 women with epilepsy who had a child between the ages of five and nine years. Forty-two of the women had taken levetiracetam during pregnancy; 27 had taken topiramate; and 47 had taken valproate. These were compared to a control group of 55 women who had not taken AEDs during pregnancy.

Assessments of the children were carried out in order to measure their IQ, verbal and non-verbal comprehension, and the speed at which they could process visual information.

It was seen that the children of women who took levetiracetam or topiramate did not have reduced IQs, or other thinking skills, compared to the control group, regardless of the dosage of medication their mother took. For mother who had taken valproate during pregnancy, however, their children’s IQs were an average of 11 IQ points less than the other groups.

“As doctors move away from prescribing valproate, we need to know about the alternatives for pregnant women with epilepsy. Lower IQs early on can harm a child’s educational success for years to come and so it is important that we gain a full understanding about any impact on development these medications may have,” commented lead researcher, Dr Rebecca Bromley, from the University of Manchester, UK.

These findings echo those of earlier research by Dr Bromley and colleagues; a 2014 study of children aged three to five, also published in Neurology, found marked differences in language and motor development skills between a group of mothers who had taken valproate and those who had taken levetiracetam or nothing at all.  

Dr Bromley urged caution with regard to interpretation of the findings, however.

“However promising a start our findings are, we do acknowledge larger studies need to be carried out regularly to ensure these drugs do not change the thinking abilities of children in the future,” she said.

Further research will ensure that women with epilepsy who hope to get pregnant will know more about balancing the risks to their own health as well as that of the unborn baby.

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