Topamax is a life-changing drug that is used to treat epilepsy and migraines. However, despite the amount it has helped patients, there is also an emerging understanding of how it can negatively impact the lives of children and families – namely, if there is a link between this drug and autism in children.
Keep reading to understand autism further, how it is connected to the drug Topamax and what you need to know about how they intersect.
A Background on Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that causes different stimuli and emotional processing in children and adults. Leo Kanner, a prominent Austrian-American psychiatrist, was the first individual in 1943 to describe the cluster of symptoms we now associate with autism.
However, it took until the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), published in 1980, to formalize the criteria for receiving a diagnosis.
As of 2022, the revised 5th edition of the DSM, known as the DSM-5-TR, has the most recent diagnostic criteria for individuals to receive an ASD diagnosis. While there were some clarifying changes in the DSM-5-TR, the core of an autism diagnosis has been left alone.
Defining Autism (ASD)
ASD is defined as “having persistent deficits in three areas of social communication and interaction.” Now that autism is defined on a spectrum, there are severities in how these deficits manifest.
There is no way to prevent or cure autism, but it can be treated with psychotherapeutic interventions, medication, and family and community support systems.
Some Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Here is a list of frequent symptoms of ASD:
- Abnormal Reaction to Eye Contact
- Obsessive Interests
- Extreme Adherence to Routine
- Extreme Sensitivity to Sounds, Smells, Tastes, and Physical Sensations
The full list of symptoms associated with ASD can be extensive and is documented by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Psychological Association (APA).
What Is Topamax?
Topamax is the brand name for the medication known as topiramate, manufactured by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson).
This drug is part of a class of drugs known as anti-convulsants, with the primary aim of treating epilepsy and preventing seizures in individuals over the age of two. An additional on-label use of Topamax is to prevent migraine headaches in patients 12 years and older.
According to the National Institutes of Health, Topamax works by “reducing the bursts of electrical activity in [the] brain and restoring the normal balance of nerve activity.” Due to this, Topamax has been administered for off-label purposes to treat additional psychiatric issues.
Here are additional mental health conditions that patients have been prescribed Topamax to treat:
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Tourette Syndrome
If you’ve ever been diagnosed with any of the above mental health conditions, you may have been prescribed Topamax by a physician.
Dosage Strengths of Topamax and How Topamax is Administered
Individuals that receive a Topamax prescription can orally ingest the drug in multiple forms:
- A coated tablet intended to be swallowed by the patient
- A sprinkle capsule that can be opened to spread the contents on food or put in drinks
Topamax comes in tablet form and can receive four different medication strengths: 25, 50, 100, and 200 milligrams (mg).
Sprinkle capsules only have two strength options: 15 and 25 mg.
Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Warnings About Topamax
Topamax was approved for seizure treatment in 1996 and to treat migraines in 2004. The first required FDA warning about damaging side effects such as metabolic acidosis, oligohydramnios, and hyperthermia was also issued in 2004.
In 2006, the FDA required Janssen to warn patients about eye disorders that could lead to permanent vision loss from taking Topamax.
It took until 2011 for the FDA to require Janssen to warn pregnant patients of the potential in-utero congenital disabilities stemming from Topamax usage while pregnant – nearly 15 years after the drug was initially released.
While there is no black box warning for the drug that indicates a life-threatening side effect, using Topamax can also increase suicidal ideation and behavior in patients who take the drug.
Is There a Link Between Topamax Usage and Autism in Children?
In 2022, psychiatrists out of Norway published a study on Topamax usage in pregnant people to find if there was an increased prevalence of autism after they gave birth.
The scientists found a 2.8% increase in autism in the children of patients that had taken Topamax while pregnant.
Are There Additional Birth Defects Stemming from Topamax Ingestion While Pregnant?
While autism is one of the primary potential side effects that can occur in utero from a pregnant person ingesting Topamax, other congenital disabilities have been associated with the drug.
In fact, in a study published in the journal Neurology in 2008 and a study published in Epilepsy Current in 2014, children born to individuals taking Topamax during pregnancy can also experience the following congenital disabilities:
- Cleft Lip
- Cleft Palate
- Oral Clefts
- Nasal Malformations
- Low Gestational Weight
What You Can Do If You Think There’s a Connection Between Autism and Topamax in Your Family
If you or someone you love has taken Topamax while pregnant and either has a confirmed diagnosis of autism in the child or suspects the child may be autistic, there may be an opportunity for you to join a mass tort. A mass tort is a civil legal action that allows individuals who have all been harmed by the same event, product, circumstance, or action to consolidate individual claims into one lawsuit.
This allows one legal team to share resources and present their evidence together in one claim instead of separately.
Also, if you are taking Topamax or any other anti-epileptic medication, consult your doctor before you have a baby or become pregnant.
All content in this blog should not be used as a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional.