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Michael Monheit
Michael Monheit
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New Study Links Autism to SSRI Use During Pregnancy

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Last year, a Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program study determined that women who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) while pregnant, particularly during the first trimester, may be putting their baby at a slightly higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). "Further studies are needed to replicate and extend these findings," it stated. Now, a Swedish study appears to have come to the same conclusion.

ASDs, per a New York Times parenting blog, are partly defined as neurodevelopmental disorders that manifest during childhood as impairments in social interaction and communication. Researchers reportedly studied mothers' medication history as listed on the medical birth register, national and regional registers that track various health issues, and the results of publicly funded ASD screenings.

After controlling for variables commonly associated with autism such as family income and education level, they found that “in utero exposure to both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and nonselective monoamine reuptake inhibitors (tricyclic antidepressants) was associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, particularly without intellectual disability.” Some, including Dr. Adam C. Urato, who serves as assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Tufts University School of Medicine and chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Mass., reached this conclusion long before either study. “[W]hy should it surprise us that medications that can change brain chemistry and function might alter the development of the brain and behavior?” he reportedly asked. After all, SSRIs are the first medication doctors prescribe for depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorders, and they — along with other antidepressants — pass through placenta and secrete in breast milk, as stated in the Kaiser Permanente study.

So now that two studies in two years have linked SSRI use to a slightly elevated ASD risk in children, pregnant mothers suffering from depression have an important decision to make. However, Dr. Urato, who pointed the New York Times to numerous animal studies illustrating similar outcomes, doesn't believe antidepressants' benefits outweigh the risks. According to the Kaiser Permanente study, "[T]he reported prevalence of autism has increased dramatically, from 4 to 5 cases per 10,000 population in 1966 to approximately 100 cases per 10,000 population today."