Psychomotor development in preschool children exposed to antiepileptic drugs in utero

Acta Paediatr. 2002;91(4):409-14. doi: 10.1080/080352502317371643.


The aim of this study was to assess psychomotor development with the Griffiths' test in preschool children exposed to antiepileptic drugs (AED) in utero. The study sample consisted of 76 children exposed to AED in utero and 71 unexposed children. The children (exposed and unexposed) have since birth been included in a population-based longitudinal follow-up study of children born to women with meticulously treated epilepsy during pregnancy, initiated in 1985. In total, 67 exposed and 66 unexposed children were tested with the Griffiths' test, which consists of 6 subsets: locomotor function, personal and social behaviour, hearing and speech, eye and hand coordination, performance, and practical reasoning. There was no significant difference in the global scores of the Griffiths' test between the two groups of children. Children exposed to phenytoin in utero (n = 16) showed a significant but subtle reduction in the scores for locomotor development compared with the unexposed children (mean scores: 98 vs 106: 95% confidence interval for the difference in mean scores: -14.0 to -0.4). There was no such difference for the children exposed to carbamazepine in utero (n = 35). The exposed children had significantly fewer siblings (p < 0.01). A significant number of the mothers with AED treatment had no higher level of education than compulsory school (p < 0.01). No other differences in socioeconomic status were observed between the groups.

Conclusion: The subtle delay in locomotor development evaluated with the Griffiths' test at 4.5-5 y of age in children exposed to phenytoin may indicate a subtle influence on psychomotor development, which may be more obvious at school age: thus, larger studies and further follow-up are warranted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticonvulsants / pharmacology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange
  • Phenytoin / pharmacology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Phenytoin