Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Could Increase Risk of Autism

pillsWhether or not it's okay to take antidepressants while pregnant has been a topic of much controversy for years, and the most recent research is tipping the scales in the direction of not okay: A new study found that women who took antidepressants in their second and third trimesters had an 87 percent increased risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

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The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, are based on 145,456 pregnancies in Quebec between January 1998 and December 2009. The fact that this was such a large study makes the results seem even more alarming, even if less than 2 percent of children overall are affected; also troubling is the fact that women who took SSRIs (a class of antidepressant including Prozac, Celexa, and Zoloft) were found to have almost double the risk of having a child on the spectrum. With so many pregnant women taking these commonly prescribed medications every day, is it time for the medical community to reevaluate the potential dangers? 

Possibly, but not all experts are convinced. As Kimberly A. Yonkers, M.D., professor of psychiatry, epidemiology and obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Public Health, told the New York Times, studies like these aren't completely reliable because it's so hard to separate certain influential factors from others. In this case, depression and autism spectrum disorders share some of the same genetic and environmental risk factors, so it's hard to say whether it's the mother's initial depression that's the issue or the antidepressants themselves.

More from The Stir: Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Has Been Linked to ADHD Risk 

Either way, mothers-to-be who are currently treating -- or thinking about treating -- their depression with medication shouldn't panic. And there are quite a few expectant moms struggling out there; according to one study, between 14 and 23 percent of pregnant women suffer from depressive symptoms. And it's important to remember that untreated maternal depression is a risk factor for other, unrelated, complications, from preterm birth to an increased incidence of asthma in children. (And of course depression is a debilitating enough disease in and of itself!)

Ultimately, to put things in perspective, keep these numbers in mind: Out of 4,700 infants (3.2 percent of babies) exposed to antidepressants in utero, only 46 developed autism. That's 46 too many, to be sure, but further research needs to be done before women need to stop using antidepressants in pregnancy altogether. 

 

Image via Michael Chen/Flickr

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