Maternal Body Mass Index in Early Pregnancy and Risk of Epilepsy in Offspring

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There is growing concern about the long-term neurologic effects of prenatal exposure to maternal overweight and obesity. The causes of epilepsy are poorly understood and, in more than 60% of the patients, no definitive cause can be determined.


To investigate the association between early pregnancy body mass index (BMI) and the risk of childhood epilepsy and examine associations between obesity-related pregnancy and neonatal complications and risks of childhood epilepsy.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A population-based cohort study of 1 441 623 live single births at 22 or more completed gestational weeks in Sweden from January 1, 1997, to December 31, 2011, was conducted. The diagnosis of epilepsy as well as obesity-related pregnancy and neonatal complications were based on information from the Sweden Medical Birth Register and National Patient Register. Multivariate Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs after adjusting for maternal age, country of origin, educational level, cohabitation with partner, height, smoking, maternal epilepsy, and year of delivery. Data analysis was conducted from June 1 to December 15, 2016.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Risk of childhood epilepsy.


Of the 1 421 551 children born between January 1, 1997, and December 31, 2011, with covariate information available, 7592 (0.5%) were diagnosed with epilepsy through December 31, 2012. Of these 3530 (46.5%) were female. The overall incidence of epilepsy in children aged 28 days to 16 years was 6.79 per 10 000 child-years. Compared with offspring of normal-weight mothers (BMI 18.5 to <25.0), adjusted HRs of epilepsy by maternal BMI categories were as follows: overweight (BMI 25.0 to <30.0), 1.11 (95% CI, 1.04-1.17); obesity grade I (BMI 30.0 to <35.0), 1.20 (95% CI, 1.10-1.31); obesity grade II (BMI 35.0 to <40.0), 1.30 (95% CI, 1.12-1.50); and obesity grade III (BMI≥40.0), 1.82 (95% CI, 1.46-2.26). The rates of epilepsy were considerably increased for children with malformations of the nervous system (adjusted HR, 46.4; 95% CI, 42.2-51.0), hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (adjusted HR, 23.6; 95% CI, 20.6-27.1), and neonatal convulsions (adjusted HR, 33.5; 95% CI, 30.1-37.4). The rates of epilepsy were doubled among children with neonatal hypoglycemia (adjusted HR, 2.10; 95% CI, 1.90-2.33) and respiratory distress syndrome (adjusted HR, 2.43; 2.21-2.66), and neonatal jaundice was associated with more than a 50% increased risk of epilepsy (adjusted HR, 1.47; 95% CI, 1.33-1.63). The elevated risk of epilepsy in children of overweight or obese mothers was not explained by obesity-related pregnancy or neonatal complications.

Conclusions and Relevance

The rates of childhood epilepsy increased with maternal overweight or obesity in a dose-response manner. Given that overweight and obesity are modifiable, prevention of obesity may be an important public health strategy to reduce the incidence of childhood epilepsy.

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