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Autism Linked to Use of SSRI Antidepressants Before or During Pregnancy

Sep 13, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP
Pregnant Woman

A study published earlier this summer in the Archives of General Psychiatry

A study published earlier this summer in the Archives of General Psychiatry has given women taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) antidepressants another reason to speak with their doctor before becoming pregnant.  The study found that mothers treated with SSRI drugs, such as drugs Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Celexa and Zoloft, either before or during the pregnancy face a slightly higher risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Many studies in the past have found an association between SSRI antidepressants and birth defects, including heart problems and neural tube defects.  In fact, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has placed most SSRIs in Pregnancy Category C, a classification that means they have been linked with birth defects in animal studies, but have not been proved safe or unsafe in humans because few studies have been conducted.  However, Paxil has been placed in Category D, meaning that studies have shown it to pose a risk to a developing fetus, but in some cases its benefits may outweigh its risks.

Both pharmaceutical records and medical records of 289 mother-child

This latest study compared both pharmaceutical records and medical records of 289 mother-child pairs where the child had been an ASD diagnosis to more than 1,500 pairs where there was no such diagnosis.  According to Environmental Health News, the researchers - a team from Kaiser Permanente in Northern California - determined which mothers had taken an SSRI, paying special attention to when the prescription was issued relative to their pregnancy.  The researchers also accounted for maternal psychiatric illnesses, such as depression, as well as the severity of such illnesses.

The researchers found that children born to mothers who took an SSRI in the year before pregnancy faced a two-fold increased risk of being diagnosed with ASD.  The risk jumped to nearly four-field if an expectant mother took an SSRI antidepressant in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The study is important because it provides the first look at the relationship between SSRI use and autism risk, Environmental Health News said.

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