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Folic acid helps pregnant women with epilepsy

Wednesday August 1st, 2018

Women with epilepsy who take folic acid before and during early pregnancy could help to reduce the chances of their baby experiencing language delays, researchers have reported.

In Norway, the government does not require foods to be fortified with folic acid.

The research by scientists at the University of Bergen, Norway, found that mothers who took epilepsy drugs while they were pregnant and did not take folic acid supplements were four times more likely to have children who experience delays in their language skills when they were 18 months old compared to children of mothers without epilepsy whose mothers did not take folic acid supplements.

By three years old, those youngsters whose mothers took no supplements were nearly five times as likely to have language delays compared to children of mothers without epilepsy, says the report in the latest edition of Neurology.

Study author Dr Elisabeth Synnøve Nilsen Husebye said: “These results are important for women with epilepsy all over the world because many epilepsy drugs interact with the way folate is metabolised by the body, so we are still learning how much folic acid is needed for women with epilepsy and how it benefits their children.”

The study involved 335 children of mothers with epilepsy who took epilepsy drugs while they were pregnant and 104,222 children of mothers without epilepsy.

The research team collated information on the use of epilepsy drugs and folic acid supplements and parents filled out surveys about their children’s language development at 18 months and three years.

Among the children whose mothers did not take folic acid, 34% of the children of mothers with epilepsy had delayed language skills at 18 months, compared to 11% of the children whose mothers did not have epilepsy.

At three years old, 24% of the children of mothers with epilepsy had a delay in expressive language skills, compared to 6% of those with mothers without epilepsy.

Among the children whose mothers took folic acid, 17% of children of mothers with epilepsy had language delay at 18 months, compared to 11% in the control group.

Dr Husebye said the research also found that mothers of children exposed to epilepsy drugs with language delays started taking folic acid later in pregnancy, with the average starting at week 6.5 of pregnancy for those with language delay at 18 months. Mothers with children exposed to epilepsy drugs with no delays in language skills most often started taking folic acid three weeks before they conceived.

“The apparently protective effect of taking folic acid supplements was striking,” she said.

“Half of the risk of having language delays at 18 months could be attributed to the lack of folic acid in children exposed to epilepsy drugs, while in children of mothers without epilepsy only 6% of the risk was attributed to the lack of supplements.”

Neurology 1 August 2018

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Child Health | Childbirth and Pregnancy | Diet & Food | Europe | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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