Antidepressants during pregnancy not linked to epilepsy in children

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  • A new study looked at the link between mothers' antidepressant use during pregnancy and subsequent epilepsy or seizures in babies.
  • The researchers followed some of the children for up to 17 years.
  • The study did not find a causal link between antidepressant use and the risk of epilepsy and seizures in babies.

A new study has found that antidepressant use by pregnant women during the first trimester does not increase the risk of epilepsy and seizures in their babies.

The study published in Neurology evaluated whether children born to women who use serotonergic antidepressants during pregnancy have a higher risk of neonatal seizures and epilepsy.

The researchers studied the medical records of more than 1.7 million children born in Sweden over a period of 17 years. They identified more than 24 000 children whose mothers had taken antidepressants during the first trimester of pregnancy and compared them to children whose mothers had not taken antidepressants during the same pregnancy phase.

The study authors also looked at hospital admissions and outpatient specialist visits to identify children who had seizures or epilepsy after birth. Among 1 551 906 children followed for one month after birth, 1 864 experienced neonatal seizures; and among 1 367 087 children followed for between two and 17 years, 5 424 were diagnosed with epilepsy.

Making the right decisions

The study found no need for concern that the use of antidepressants by pregnant women may lead to an increased risk of neonatal seizures or epilepsy in their offspring.

Although the study found that children whose mothers took antidepressants during pregnancy did have an elevated risk of seizures or epilepsy compared to children whose mothers did not take the medication, the researchers found that there was no causal link to antidepressants. Instead, the episodes were linked to the parents' medical history – like a history of epilepsy, certain diseases, or tobacco use during pregnancy.

The study authors say that their findings can help pregnant mothers make decisions that will not compromise their mental and physical health.

"The findings of this study are very important. Pregnancy can be a trying time, and the addition of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can add to this burden. These findings may provide reassurance to women and their doctors considering the risks and benefits of medication," said study author Dr Ayesha Sujan in a statement.

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