Antidepressants Linked to Autism, Birth Defects

Antidepressants are, again, being linked to birth defects, according to new research out of Finland. Reuters wrote that two researchers discovered that women taking Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine) experienced a slightly raised risk of giving birth to babies with heart defects. Both medications are <"">SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Study author, Dr. Heli Malm, did caution, speaking to Reuters, that the findings do not confirm that the drugs caused the birth defects, but that the medications “should only be used during pregnancy when clearly indicated.” The risk for heart defects involved between 3 and 6 percent of the women participants taking SSRIs during pregnancy.

The study involved a review of national data from 635,583 births from 1996 through 2006. Prozac increased risks for isolated ventricular septal defects, which is a hole between the left and right sides of the heart; Paxil increased risks when taken in early pregnancy for right ventricular outflow tract defects, which affects blood flow from the hearts right chambers to the body, said Reuters. There was also increased risks for neural tube defects in babies exposed to SSRIs, added Reuters, and babies born to mothers taking antidepressants also experienced significantly increased likelihoods for developing alcohol-related disorders, according to the researchers writing in the journal, Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Other studies have linked SSRIs to higher-than-average birth defect risks. A Danish study of about 500,000 children revealed increased heart defect risks in children whose mothers took Prozac, but who also took Zoloft (sertraline) and Celexa (citalipram), noted Reuters. A 2010 study of 12,7000 U.S. babies revealed that mothers taking Wellbutrin (bupropion) during pregnancy experienced more than double the risk for specific heart defects—left outflow tract defects—explained Reuters.

Another study of mothers taking Zoloft, Prozac, or other SSRIs during pregnancy found that children were twice as likely to be diagnosed with autism or autism-related disorders, said CNN. It seems that children exposed to SSRIs in the first trimester of pregnancy experienced a four-fold likelihood to develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) versus unexposed children, said CNN. That study appears in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

“Lisa Croen, Ph.D., study researcher and the director of autism research at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, called for more research. “This is the first study of its kind to look at the association, and the findings have to be interpreted with a lot of caution,” quoted CNN. Croen and her team looked at a potential SSRI-autism links because the increase in autism rates over the past few decades seemed to increase with the rise in SSRI use during pregnancy, said CNN. Also, people diagnosed with autism appear to also have abnormalities in serotonin levels and regulation.

Reports of ASDs are on the rise, in part because of better diagnostic tools, but many have long believed the increase could be due to environmental exposures. The origins of autism have long been questioned and critics have blamed PCBs; mercury; vaccinations; pesticides; pollution; high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which was found in two studies to contain mercury. ASDs include not only autism, but also Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified and involve issues with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.

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