Study Sees Increased Autism Risk When Mother Uses SSRI Antidepressant Before, During Pregnancy

A recent study has added autism to the possible risks associated with the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy. SSRI antidepressants include the drugs Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Celexa and Zoloft.

According to this new study, which was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry this past July, children born to mothers who took an SSRI in the year before pregnancy faced a two-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with an <"">Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The risk jumped to nearly four-field if an expectant mother took an SSRI antidepressant in the first trimester of pregnancy.

According to Environmental Health News, the SSRI – autism study was conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California. The research team compared pharmacy prescription and medical records of 289 mothers – children pairs were there was an ASD diagnoses and more than 1,500 mother -children pairs were the diagnosis was absent.

The research team also factored maternal psychiatric illnesses, including depression, which did not change these relationships, Environmental Health News said. They were also unable to find a clear relationship with severity of maternal psychiatric illnesses and ASD diagnosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), children with ASD demonstrate deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests. In addition, they will often have unusual responses to sensory experiences, such as certain sounds or the way objects look. The symptoms of ASD may run the range from mild to severe.

According to the CDC, it is estimated that 3.4 of every 1,000 children ages 3-10 has some type of ASD. The cause of autism is unknown. In the past, some researchers had suggested that autism was the result of poor attachment skills on the part of the mother. But that theory has been discredited, and now autism is suspected of being a biological disorder. Environmental Health News points out that while genetic factors have been frequently examined as a possible cause of autism, new research is pointing to environmental factors.

A possible connection to autism is just one reason women taking SSRI antidepressants should talk to their doctors prior to becoming pregnant. In July, a study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that women who take such drugs during pregnancy are more likely to have a child with a heart-related birth defect. Thirty-one of 10,000 women who took Paxil gave birth to a child with a heart defect, compared to only seven among the same number of mothers who did not take Paxil. Of 10,000 babies exposed to Prozac before birth, 105 developed a heart defect versus 49 among the 10,000 who were not exposed. In total, the Obstetrics & Gynecology looked at about 635,583 births that occurred between 1996 and 2006.

The study also found a higher risk of other birth defects, including neural tube birth defects. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders were also 10-times more common in the SSRI-exposed group compared to those who were not exposed, the study said.

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