A new study reports that boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) in the womb than typically developing children.
Boys whose mothers took SSRIs – including Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (certaline) – during pregnancy were also more likely to have developmental delays, HealthDay News reports. The study was published online this week in Pediatrics and will appear in May in the print issue.
Study co-author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the epidemiology department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development.” The greatest risk comes from exposure during the first trimester, according to HealthDay News.
The study included 966 mother-child pairs; nearly 800 of the children were male. The average age of the children at the time of the study was about 4 years. About 500 of the children had an autism spectrum disorder, 154 had some type of developmental delay, and 320 were typically developing children. Boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRIs in pregnancy, and the rate was highest for those exposed during the first trimester. Boys with developmental delays were three to five times more likely to have been exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy compared to typically developing children and the risks were highest for exposure in the third trimester.
Though the study found an association between prenatal use of SSRI antidepressants and autism risk in boys, it did not prove cause and effect. The authors also point out that untreated depression poses risks to both mother and fetus. Lee said using or not using these medications during pregnancy is “a complex decision” and many factors must be considered, according to HealthDay News. The authors caution that the study is not intended to be the basis for clinical treatment decisions and women should discuss SSRI use with their doctors.