Effects of anti-epileptic drugs on unborn children studied

From l to r: Nicholas Lockwood, Prof Simon Maskell, Dr Alex Phillips and Andre Finn.


A University of Liverpool study has found that the anti-epileptic drug levetiracetam appears not to be associated with thinking, movement and language problems for pre-school children born to mothers who took the drug during pregnancy, however, the drug valproate was associated with some difficulties in pre-schoolers.

The study by trainee clinical psychologist Dr Rebekah Shallcross, involved 53 children exposed to levetiracetam, 44 children whose mothers took valproate and 151 children whose mothers did not have epilepsy and did not take any drugs during pregnancy.

The children, who were aged three to four-and-a-half, completed The Griffiths Mental Development Scales and the Reynell Language Development Scales which evaluated their development in areas such as thinking, movement and language abilities.

Children exposed to levetiracetam did not differ from children not exposed to anti-epileptic drugs on any scale administered. Children who were exposed to valproate, however, scored an average of 16 points lower on movement tests, 10 points lower on expressive language tests and six points lower on language comprehension measures than those exposed to levetiracetam.

Previous studies have also documented the poor developmental outcome, including motor and language development, in children exposed in utero to valproate.

Dr Shallcross, from the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society said: “These results are heartening, as the use of levetiracetam has increased in recent years, but there has been limited information on its effect on the thinking, movement and language abilities of children.”

“However, this is the first study to look at the effects of levetiracetam and further research is needed before we can be certain there are no associations. It is very important that women do not stop taking their medication before speaking to their healthcare professional.”

The study was carried out by the Liverpool and Manchester Neurodevelopmental Group and The UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy Register. The study was supported by UCB Pharma and was published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

epilepsy research

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