A study released Monday found mothers of children with autism were more likely to have been prescribed an antidepressant before birth than mothers of healthy children. Mothers who took the drug in the first trimester of pregnancy were three times more likely to have an autistic child.
Autism affects one out of every 150 children born in the United States and refers to a range of disorders from severe (such as an inability to communicate and mental retardation) to relatively mild symptoms (such as with Asperger’s syndrome).
Lisa Croen, director of the Autism Research Program at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, led a team that conducted the study to see whether antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs) contributed to autism risk. The study included nearly 300 children with autism and 1,500 randomly selected children and and included checking the medical records of their mothers.
Findings indicated that mothers of autistic children were twice as likely to have taken an antidepressant in the year before delivery than mothers in the control group. The trait was three times more common when antidepressants were taken in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Croen’s stated “Our results suggest a possible, albeit small, risk to the unborn child associated with in utero exposure to SSRIs,” but she cautioned that the risk must be balanced with the risk to the mother of having untreated depression. The SSRI study was preliminary and much more work is needed to understand the link between antidepressants and autism, according to the team.
Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, commented “A threefold increase in risk is not insignificant. It is worth taking that into account with other factors.”
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