Antidepressants in Pregnancy May Raise Autism Risk

Antidepressants in Pregnancy May Raise Autism Risk

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Dec. 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Women who take antidepressants during the final two trimesters of pregnancy may put their children at risk for autism spectrum disorder, a new Canadian study suggests.

Researchers said it seemed that children had an 87 percent increased risk of autism if their mothers used antidepressants during the second and third trimester.

The risk of autism rose even higher if a mother took a type of antidepressant called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, or SSRI, the study found. These drugs include escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft).

However, experts noted that the study findings don’t establish a clear cause-and-effect link between antidepressants and autism.

Pregnant women should not stop taking prescribed antidepressants without consulting their doctor, the experts said.

“It is critical to caution currently pregnant women who are on antidepressants who read about this study to not panic and suddenly discontinue their medication,” said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“They could go through withdrawal symptoms that could be a higher risk than continuing on their medicine. They should consult their obstetrician and psychiatrist before deciding anything,” said Manevitz, who was not involved in the study.

The new findings may help to explain — at least partly — the increase in autism in recent years, said study senior author Anick Berard, a professor with the University of Montreal School of Pharmacy.

Berard said antidepressant use among U.S. pregnant women increased from 5.7 percent in 1999 to 13.3 percent in 2003, while the prevalence of autism has increased from 0.04 percent in 1966 to approximately 1 percent today.

“The steep increase in the diagnosis of autism has coincided with the huge increase in antidepressant use during pregnancy,” she said.

Although the causes of autism remain unclear, previous studies have concluded that both genetics and environment can play a role, Berard said. Children with the disorder usually display social challenges and communication difficulties.

The new study, published Dec. 14 in JAMA Pediatrics, was not a controlled, randomized trial, which is the gold standard of scientific research. Instead, it used data on all pregnancies in Quebec from 1998 through 2009. Researchers identified more than 145,000 full-term infants, of whom 1,054 were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

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