Epilepsy Drug Linked to Autism Risk

But with this study, "There's an inkling that there may be a specific kind of brain injury resulting from a chemical exposure in utero that causes autism -- that would be more of a surprise and more of a change."

However, Dr. Jacqueline French, a professor of neurology at the New York University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center in Manhattan, believes there are still lessons to be learned about valproic acid.

Changing Treatment to Prevent Autism

"If you think about the fetus developing in the mom, the thing that parents were most worried about was organogenesis --- do the limbs form right, do the fingers form right -- all of those things are completed by the end of the first trimester," said French, who is also a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to French, that meant that women with epilepsy and their doctors worried more about what drugs were taken at the beginning of a pregnancy and less about which drugs were taken at the end.

"But the brain develops after the first three months and throughout the pregnancy in the womb," said French. She believes research that associates valproic acid with brain development problems, including autism, should change the way neurologists prescribe theses anticonvulsants.

"The word is getting out, but it certainly hasn't gotten out entirely," said French.

Both French and Goldstein assert that women with epilepsy should not be afraid to have children, but that they should consult with their neurologist beforehand.

"A lot of the medications also interfere with birth control for an example," said French. "It takes a lot of expertise and specific knowledge to carry a woman with epilepsy through her childbearing years."

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