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By Emma Innes
The U.S. study supports previous research which has shown that taking SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy increases a woman’s risk of having a child with the developmental disability.
Despite the link, researchers say the chances of a woman who takes SSRIs during pregnancy having a child with autism remain very low.
For the latest study, researchers at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, analysed large population based registers of nearly 750,000 births in Denmark from 1997 through 2006.
They found that about 1.5 per cent of children born to women who had taken an SSRI during pregnancy were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to about 0.7 per cent of children born to an otherwise similar group of women not taking the medication.
‘We found a two-fold increased risk for ASD associated with in utero exposure to SSRIs compared to the unexposed reference group,’ said lead author Dr Nicole Gidaya.
Dr Gidaya, added that ‘if the increased ASD risk we saw here is real, it is important to realise that the number of ASD cases that could be prevented by reducing SSRI exposure in pregnancy still represents only a small fraction of overall cases of ASD.’
The researchers also urged people to be cautious about the results as they say it is difficult to distinguish between the effects of the underlying condition and of the medication.
‘We must begin trying to map these multiple risk factors on to common pathways, so that these pathways can be a focus in our effort to prevent the impairment associated with ASD.
‘Pathways involving the brain’s serotonin system are still one viable candidate.’
The news comes just after another U.S. study suggested that mothers-to-be who take antidepressants may be three times more likely to have a baby boy with autism.
Researchers from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found boys were much more likely to develop autism when their mothers took antidepressants than girls were.
They also found that the link between autism and SSRIs was particularly pronounced in children whose mothers took the drugs during the third trimester of their pregnancy.
Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and Childhood Autism Spectrum Disorders, Croen et al, Archives of General Psychiatry. 2011 click here
Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children, Boukhris, Mottron, Bérard, JAMA Pediatrics 2016