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New Clue in the Autism Puzzle — A Link to an Anti-Seizure Drug

Women who took the anti-epilepsy drug valproate during pregnancy are at significantly higher risk of having a child with autism.

Autism and epilepsy

It is one of the enduring mysteries of medical science: What is behind the dramatic increase in the diagnosis of autism?

Many researchers are working on this question, but there are still few answers. So it is encouraging when any trigger for autism is discovered.

Researchers in Denmark followed more than 500,000 women through pregnancy and after the birth of their children, looking for those autism triggers.

They found women who had taken the anti-seizure drug valproate during their pregnancy were five times more likely to have a child with autism.

Valproate is used to treat epilepsy as well as anorexia nervosa, PTSD, and bipolar disorder. It is known to cause birth defects; but in some cases, it is the only effective drug to treat epilepsy. Since epilepsy itself can pose a risk to a pregnant mother and her fetus, it is sometimes given in low doses to pregnant women.

The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Other anti-epilepsy drugs were not found to increase the risk of autism.

Last Updated: 07/18/2013

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