A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Fall, 2020 | Number 4, Volume 34

Valproic acid exposure in utero raises risk of ASD, ADHD

Women with epilepsy who take the anticonvulsant drug valproic acid during pregnancy have a significantly elevated risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study. 

The study, conducted by Kelsey Wiggs and colleagues, examined data on more than 14,000 children born to women with epilepsy between 1996 and 2011. Nearly one-quarter of the women reported using anticonvulsant medication in their first trimester. The most common drugs the women took were carbamazepine (Tegretol), lamotrigine (Lamictal), and valproic acid (Depacon/Depakene/ Stavzor). 

After controlling for factors such as the severity of the women’s epilepsy, the researchers found that women who reported using valproic acid during their first trimester of pregnancy had a 2.3 times higher risk of having a child with ASD and a 1.7 times higher risk of having a child with ADHD compared to women with epilepsy who did not take anticonvulsants. There was no increased risk for women who took lamotrigine or carbamazepine. 

The researchers conclude, “Our findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that certain anti-seizure medications may be safer than others in pregnancy.


“Anti-seizure medication use during pregnancy and risk of ASD and ADHD in children,” Kelsey K. Wiggs, Martin E. Rickert, Ayesha C. Sujan, Patrick D. Quinn, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lichtenstein, A. Sara Oberg, and Brian M. D’Onofrio, Neurology, October 28, 2020 (free online). Address: Kelsey K. Wiggs, [email protected]


“Antiseizure medication in pregnancy associated with twice the risk of autism in child,” news release, American Academy of Neurology, October 28, 2020.