Children are more likely to have epilepsy if their mother had arthritis while the youngster was in the womb, a major study concludes.
Researchers discovered the risk of the seizure-triggering disorder is increased by 160 per cent if the woman suffered rheumatoid arthritis.
They are also three times as likely to develop the agonising condition in later life, data of nearly 1.4 million births shows.
Danish scientists are now calling for children born to arthritis sufferers to be given ‘special attention’ to monitor their health.
A major study has concluded that children who are born to mothers with arthritis are more likely to have epilepsy
The findings, derived from 25 years of research, are believed down to the origins of rheumatoid arthritis – an autoimmune condition.
What triggers epilepsy?
Theories have suggested the condition, most common in women, triggers the body to release self-attacking antibodies that could get passed down into the womb.
However, in most cases of epilepsy, it’s unsure what disrupts electrical signals in the brain and causes seizures.
The Odense University Hospital researchers haven’t pinpointed exactly why arthritis may lead to epilepsy and have only established an association.
THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF ARTHRITIS
People living with arthritis are at greater risk of a deadly lung disease, it was warned in October.
Sufferers are almost 50 per cent more likely to end up with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), researchers found.
It was added by experts to the list of complications, along with heart disease and diabetes, now linked to the painful condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term illness in which the immune system causes the body to attack itself, causing painful, swollen and stiff joints.
But the extra problems come from the inflammation it causes in those joints.
It is this inflammation which is thought to lead to COPD – the umbrella term for diseases from emphysema to acute bronchitis which can cause wheezing and breathlessness so bad that daily activities can become impossible.
Lead author Dr Line Jølving said: ‘We have addressed a concern in pregnant women with rheumatoid arthritis… on the future health of their offspring.
‘Our results call for special attention on child development of rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, and epilepsy if exposed to rheumatoid arthritis in utero.’
The researchers also found that the risk of thyroid disease, which can affect how quickly the heart beats, was increased by 220 per cent.
Rheumatoid arthritis: The facts
Rheumatoid arthritis – different to osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear, affects 400,000 in the UK and 1.5 million in the US.
The condition, which can begin at any age – but plagues most people between 30 and 60, usually affect the hands, feet and wrists. Currently, it is incurable and treatment revolves around reducing painful flare-ups.
The findings, published in Arthritis Care & Research, assessed 2,106 children born to women with rheumatoid arthritis and 1,378,539 without.
Does the link already exist?
It’s not the first time scientists have suggested there is a link between the form of arthritis in pregnancy and children going on to develop epilepsy.
Copenhagen University researchers uncovered a similar association when they reviewed data from nearly two million births last November.