Pregnancy: Antidepressant Use Linked to Autism

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Antidepressant linked to Autism

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The topic of antidepressant exposure during pregnancy and autism has been discussed over the years, due to the prevalence of children being diagnosed with autism and so many women taking antidepressants during pregnancy.

It is a fact that serotonin plays a crucial role in embryonic development, as this neurotransmitter is vital for fetal brain formation. A Canadian study suggests that the overall risk is low, “less than 1 percent of the nearly 150,000 babies in the study were diagnosed with autism by age six or seven”, however, children of women taking antidepressants during second and thirds trimesters were, “97 percent more likely to develop autism” compared to kids born to women who are not taking the drugs. Researchers at the University of Montreal are suggesting that women with more mild symptoms should try other depression management techniques such as exercise or psychotherapy to help with their condition.

Depression must be managed during pregnancy since left untreated can lead to underweight babies, or the mothers may miss important prenatal visits. The severity of the depression must be assessed before multiple types of antidepressants should be prescribed.

Here are the results of the study: (source: JAMA Pediatrics)

Results  During 904 035.50 person-years of follow-up, 1054 children (0.7%) were diagnosed with ASD; boys with ASD outnumbered girls by a ratio of about 4:1. The mean (SD) age of children at the end of follow-up was 6.24 (3.19) years. Adjusting for potential confounders, use of antidepressants during the second and/or third trimester was associated with the risk of ASD (31 exposed infants; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.87; 95% CI, 1.15-3.04). Use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors during the second and/or third trimester was significantly associated with an increased risk of ASD (22 exposed infants; adjusted hazard ratio, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.20-3.93). The risk was persistent even after taking into account maternal history of depression (29 exposed infants; adjusted hazard ratio, 1.75; 95% CI, 1.03-2.97).

Conclusions and Relevance  Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of ASD in children, even after considering maternal depression. Further research is needed to specifically assess the risk of ASD associated with antidepressant types and dosages during pregnancy.


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