Taking antidepressants during pregnancy appears to raise autism risk: study

Anick Bedard of the University of Montreal is pictured in this undated handout photo. A new study from the university suggests that taking antidepressants during pregnancy may raise the risk of autism spectrum disorder in offspring. The University of Montreal study found that taking certain antidepressants appears to double the risk that a child will be diagnosed with autism by age seven.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Louis Prud'homme

TORONTO - A new study suggests that taking antidepressants during pregnancy may raise the risk of autism spectrum disorder in offspring.

The University of Montreal study found that taking certain antidepressants appears to double the risk that a child will be diagnosed with autism by age seven.

The apparent link between autism and maternal antidepressant use was strongest with drugs known as SSRIs taken during the second and third trimesters.

Lead author Anick Berard says this period is critical for infant brain development and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, may have a negative impact on that development.

The study published in Monday's edition of JAMA Pediatrics looked at the health records of almost 145,500 Quebec children, of whom 1,054 were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Berard says the findings suggest a possible link between SSRI use during pregnancy and autism, but do not prove the drugs are a cause of the developmental disorder in children.

Barbara Mintzes, a pharmacology expert at the University of Sydney, says the study adds to the existing body of research suggesting a link between antidepressant use and a higher risk of autism.

Mintzes says pregnant women concerned about being on an antidepressant should not abruptly stop taking their pill, but could discuss gradually reducing the dose with their doctor.


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