A recent study revealed that taking anti-depressants while pregnant increases risk of autism in children. The higher risk is given by SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) taken during the last two trimesters of the pregnancy.
Researchers have studied 145,456 children born in Quebec from 1999 to 2009. Among all these children, 1,054 have been diagnosed with a condition within the autism spectre. The majority of them were boys, outnumbering the girls by 4 to 1.
Also, among the total number of children, 4,724 (about 3.2 percent) have been exposed to SSRIs in utero, among which 2,532 have been exposed during the second and/or the third trimester. Among the latter, 31 children were diagnosed with a condition within the autism spectre.
While no association of SSRIs exposure in utero has been found for those exposed to the drugs in the first trimester, for the children exposed in the second and third trimester, there has been registered a higher risk of autism with almost 87 percent.
The researchers aren’t yet sure what can explain the observations but they believe that serotonin impacts the brain development in children.
Authors argue that it should be a public health priority to find out the long-term effects of antidepressants on the neuronal development of children, since the use of SSRIs is widely spread and on the rise.
Doctors claim that is very difficult to choose whether or not to prescribe SSRIs to pregnant women. On one side, there is the unknown risk on the health of the future baby linked directly to the drugs but on the other side, depression in pregnant women can harm both the baby and the mother. Untreated depression can lead to avoidance of medical care, poor nutrition, self-harm or even suicide.
Studies from 1999 to 2003 have shown an increase of SSRIs use in pregnant women of no less than 7 percent – from 6 percent in ’99 to 13 percent in 2003.
Authors of the study argue that their results are stronger than those of other studies in the way that it is prospective. However, they recognize it also has limitations. One of them is that the team analysed official data for prescription filling so they do not know for sure if the medication was really taken or not. Then, the study has no data on other factors regarding the lifestyle of the mothers during pregnancy or about other health conditions they might have had which could have affected the development of their children’s brain.
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