A new study from Denmark has found that children of mothers with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to develop epilepsy than children of mothers who do not have the disease.
Investigators at Copenhagen University Hospital conducted the research, which was published in the journal Neurology. They looked at the health records of children born in Denmark from 1977 to 2008 — more than two million in all — and followed them for an average of 16 years. About 31,000 of the children went on to develop epilepsy. Also, nearly 14,000 of the children born from 1977 to 2008 had mothers with RA; this includes mothers who developed RA after their child was born — mothers who were considered to have “preclinical” RA.
The researchers discovered that, compared to children whose mothers did not have RA, children whose mothers had RA at the time of giving birth were up to 90 percent more likely to develop epilepsy. Children whose mothers had preclinical RA were up to 26 percent more likely to develop epilepsy. This last finding was important because if the children of mothers with preclinical RA had a higher risk of epilepsy, the researchers could rule out the possibility that the treatments for RA were a factor in the higher risk.
Until further investigations are completed, the researchers can only speculate on the reasons for the RA-epilepsy link. According to study author Ane Lilleore Rom, Ph.D., “These results suggest that changes in the environment for the fetus may play a role in the development of epilepsy. We don’t know yet how this may work, but it could involve the production of material antibodies that could affect the unborn child.”