Taking antidepressants during pregnancy raises autism risk by 87 percent

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy raises autism risk by 87 percent

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders. This disorder is characterized by social impairments, trouble with communication, and restricted, repetitive stereotyped patterns of behavior. According to the National Institutes of Health, experts estimate that 1 out of 88 children will have autism spectrum disorder.

Currently, autism is considered a condition with no treatment. According to the CDC: “There are no medications that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms.”

New research shows that taking antidepressants during pregnancy raises autism risk by 87 percent.

Lead author of the study, Professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal, and a team of researchers found this after reviewing data from 145,456 pregnancies.

The variety of causes of autism remain unclear, but studies have shown that both genetics and environment can play a role,” she explained. “Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, often known by its acronym SSRIs.”

We defined exposure to antidepressants as the mother having had one or more prescription for antidepressants filled during the second or third trimester of the pregnancy. This period was chosen as the infant’s critical brain development occurs during this time,” Prof. Bérard said. “Amongst all the children in the study, we then identified which children had been diagnosed with a form of autism by looking at hospital records indicating diagnosed childhood autism, atypical autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or a pervasive developmental disorder. Finally, we looked for a statistical association between the two groups, and found a very significant one: an 87% increased risk.”

The findings are very important, as some 6-10 percent of pregnant women are being treated with antidepressants for depression.

It is biologically plausible that anti-depressants are causing autism if used at the time of brain development in the womb, as serotonin is involved in numerous pre- and postnatal developmental processes, including cell division, the migration of neuros, cell differentiation and synaptogenesis — the creation of links between brain cells,” Prof. Bérard explained. “Some classes of anti-depressants work by inhibiting serotonin (SSRIs and some other antidepressant classes), which will have a negative impact on the ability of the brain to fully develop and adapt in-utero.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of death. This leads the researchers to believe that this will cause anti-depressant to continue to be prescribed more, even during pregnancy.

Our work contributes to a better understanding of the long-term neurodevelopmental effects of anti-depressants on children when they are used during gestation. Uncovering the outcomes of these drugs is a public health priority, given their widespread use,” Prof. Bérard said.

The study showing that taking antidepressants during pregnancy raises autism risk by 87 percent was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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1. “Autism Fact Sheet.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). National Institutes of Health, n.d. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.
2. “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Treatment.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 Feb. 2015. Web. 05 Aug. 2015.
3. “Taking Antidepressants during Pregnancy Increases Risk of Autism by 87%.” Nouvelles.umontreal.ca. UdeMNouvelles, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.
4. “Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and the Risk of Autism.” JAMA Network. JAMA Pediatrics, n.d. Web. 21 Dec. 2015.

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