Dr Gigi Chow

Study Links Autism With Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy

In Hormonal Health, Stay Healthy on April 23, 2013 at 12:47 am

From the New York Times http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/study-links-autism-with-antidepressant-use-during-pregnancy/?ref=health

A cautiously worded study based on data collected in Sweden has found that “in utero exposure to both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.’s) and nonselective monoamine reuptake inhibitors (tricyclic antidepressants) was associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, particularly without intellectual disability.”

The Swedish medical birth register (which contains data on current drug use reported by mothers early in their pregnancies), along with a system of publicly funded screenings for autism spectrum disorders and extensive national and regional registers of various health issues, make a detailed, population-based case-control study possible — one that controls for other variables like family income, parent educational level, maternal and paternal age and even maternal region of birth (all factors the authors note have been previously associated with autism).

This is the second study in two years to associate antidepressant use during pregnancy with an increased incidence of autism in exposed children. An earlier, smaller study in California also found a modest increase in risk. The Sweden-based study could not (and did not) exclude the possibility that it was the severe depression, rather than the use of antidepressants, that created the association, but the smaller California study (which considered only S.S.R.I.’s) found “no increase in risk” for mothers with a history of mental health treatment in the absence of prenatal exposure to S.S.R.I.’s.

The authors of the current study took a very cautious approach to their findings:

The results of the present study as well as the U.S. study present a major dilemma in relation to clinical advice to pregnant women with depression. If antidepressants increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder, it would be reasonable to warn women about this possibility. However, if the association actually reflects the risk of autism spectrum disorder related to the nongenetic effects of severe depression during pregnancy, treatment may reduce the risk. Informed decisions would also need to consider weighing the wider risks of untreated depression with the other adverse outcomes related to antidepressant use. With the current evidence, if the potential risk of autism were a consideration in the decision-making process, it may be reasonable to think about, wherever appropriate, nondrug approaches such as psychological treatments. However, their timely availability to pregnant women will need to be enhanced. Read more

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