Women using antidepressants known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) during pregnancy may be at higher risk of having children with autism spectrum disorders, according to a new study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Several studies have raised red flags with the use of SSRIs during pregnancy. SSRIs, which include the brand names Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Celexa and Prozac, have been linked to birth defects such as persistent pulmonary hypertension, heart defects, neural tube defects and malformations. Studies have also suggested that children exposed to SSRIs in utero are more likely to have behavioral problems and developmental delays. Studies have also questioned whether SSRI exposure could contribute to autism risk.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter whose use by the brain is altered during depression and modified by SSRI use, and has been shown to play a pivotal role in brain development, according to Psych Central.
Researchers from Drexel University suggest that results of previous studies on SSRI use during pregnancy and autism disorder in offspring may have been compromised due to under-reporting or lack of consideration of maternal depression.
For the new study, researchers analyzed large population-based registers of nearly 750,000 births from 1997 to 2006. They found that roughly 1.5 percent of children born to women who took SSRIs during pregnancy were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Only about 0.7 percent of children born to similar women not taking the medication were diagnosed with autism.
“We found a twofold increased risk for ASD associated with in utero exposure to SSRIs compared to the unexposed reference group,” lead author Nicole Gidaya said. The study also accounted for the under-reporting of maternal depression in the register.
Researchers suggest that future studies focus on large population samples where the is good quality data about exposure to SSRIs, mental health diagnoses, and autism spectrum disorder diagnoses.
Source: Psych Central