Taking antidepressants during pregnancy does not cause epilepsy in children

After adjusting for factors in the mothers associated with the risk of seizures in newborns – such as age, epilepsy, income and tobacco use – the researchers found no association between the use of antidepressants by mothers in the first trimester and a child’s risk of seizures or epilepsy. . Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

There is good news for women with mental disorders: taking antidepressants early in pregnancy does not increase the risk of epilepsy or seizures in the baby, researchers say.

“The results of this study are very important,” said study co-author Ayesha Sujan of Indiana University Bloomington. “Pregnancy can be a trying time, and adding depression, anxiety and other mental health issues can add to this burden. These results can reassure women and their doctors about the risks and benefits of the drugs. »

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 1.7 million Swedish-born children over the age of 17. Investigators identified more than 24,000 children whose mothers took antidepressants during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Antidepressants included drugs prescribed to treat anxiety and depression, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro), as well as serotonin reuptake inhibitors. serotonin and norepinephrine (SNRI). SNRIs include drugs such as desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) and duloxetine (Cymbalta).

Among more than 1.5 million children followed for one month after birth, 0.12% had neonatal seizures. Among more than 1.3 million children followed from 2 to 17 years of age, 0.40% were diagnosed with epilepsy.

Initially, researchers found that rates of neonatal seizures were slightly higher in babies exposed to antidepressants in the womb: 1.7 per 1,000 infants whose mothers took antidepressants during the first trimester and 1.2 per 1,000 in infants whose mothers were not taking antidepressants.

According to the study, the rates of diagnosis of epilepsy at age 5 were 5.4 per 1,000 in exposed children and 4.1 per 1,000 in unexposed children. The results were published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

But after adjusting for factors in the mothers associated with the risk of seizures in newborns – such as age, epilepsy, income and tobacco use – the researchers found no association between use. of antidepressants by mothers in the first trimester and the risk of seizures or seizures in the child. epilepsy.

“While several studies have shown a possible link between maternal use of antidepressants during pregnancy and seizures in newborns and toddlers, our study suggested that exposure to antidepressants during first trimester of pregnancy does not increase the risk of seizures and epilepsy in children,” Sujan said. in a press release.

“This could mean that the slightly elevated risk of such seizures documented in previous studies could be due to other factors such as other illnesses or smoking during pregnancy,” Sujan explained.

More information

To learn more about depression during pregnancy, see the March of Dimes.

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