Children Born To Mothers With Rheumatoid Arthritis May Have Increased Risk Of Developing Epilepsy

First Posted: Nov 18, 2016 03:50 AM EST

Parents of children with epilepsy struggle to identify what causes the condition. Experts have recently found a direct link between mother suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and children with epilepsy. The results of the study were published in the online issue of Neurology®, a medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to Medical Xpress, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's own immune system to attack the joints. It differs from osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear on the joints.

"These results suggest that changes in the environment for the fetus may play a role in the development of epilepsy," said study author Ane Lilleore Rom, Ph.D., of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark. "We don't know yet how this may work, but it could involve the production of maternal antibodies that could affect the unborn child."

Researchers of the study analyzed records of children born in Denmark from 1977 to 2008. It was revealed that about 2 million children were then followed for an average of 16 years. Among those, 31,491 or 1.6 percent children developed epilepsy. The record also revealed that a total of 13,556 or 0.7 percent had mothers with rheumatoid arthritis after their child was born; they were considered to have "preclinical" rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

However, compared to children whose mothers did not have RA, children with mothers who suffered from RA at the time of their birth were up to 90 percent more at risk of developing epilepsy, while those whose mothers had preclinical RA were 26 percent more likely to develop epilepsy, reported News Medical.

The numbers translate to 2 percent of children whose mothers had clinical RA and 3 percent of children whose mothers had preclinical RA at the time of birth who later developed epilepsy.

It is important to note that since children of mothers with preclinical RA also had an increased risk of epilepsy. According to Rom, the findings point toward an important role of the disease itself rather than an effect of treatments for RA. But the specific effect of RA treatments still needs to be further investigated.

Meanwhile, the results were the same after researchers considered several factors such as the baby's birth weight, gestational age at birth and whether the mother also had epilepsy.

Rom explained that the research has shown an increased risk of epilepsy for people who have autoimmune diseases that directly involve the brain, such as multiple sclerosis. He also noted that rheumatoid arthritis has been found to increase the risk of epilepsy even though rheumatoid arthritis does not directly affect the brain.

"But it is new knowledge that also offspring of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis seem to have an increased risk of developing epilepsy," Rom said.

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