BACKGROUND: Research suggests that maintaining treatment during pregnancy for women with bipolar affective disorder reduces the risk of relapse. However, one of the key questions for women and clinicians during pregnancy is whether there are implications of exposure to mood stabilizers for longer term child development. Despite these concerns, there are few recent systematic reviews comparing the impact on child developmental outcomes for individual mood-stabilizing agents to inform clinical decisions.
OBJECTIVES: To examine the strengths and limitations of the existing data on child developmental outcomes following prenatal exposure to mood stabilizers and to explore whether there are any differences between agents for detrimental effects on child development.
METHOD: Using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines, a rigorous systematic search was carried out of four electronic databases from their respective years of inception to September 2016 to identify studies which examined the effects of mood stabilizers including sodium valproate, carbamazepine, lamotrigine, lithium and second-generation antipsychotics on child developmental outcomes.
RESULTS: We identified 15 studies for critical review. Of these, 10 examined antiepileptic drugs, 2 studied lithium and 3 studied second-generation antipsychotics. The most consistent finding was a dose-response relationship for valproate with higher doses associated with poorer global cognitive abilities compared to other antiepileptic drugs. The limited data available for lithium found no adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. The limited second-generation antipsychotic studies included a report of a transient early neurodevelopmental delay which resolved by 12 months of age.
CONCLUSION: This review found higher neurodevelopmental risk with valproate. While the existing data on lithium and second-generation antipsychotics are reassuring, these data are both limited and lower quality, indicating that further research is required. The information from this review is relevant for patients and clinicians to influence choice of mood-stabilizing agent in childbearing women. This must be balanced against the known risks associated with untreated bipolar affective disorder.