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Taking certain types of antidepressants during pregnancy, such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac, appears to double the risk of giving birth to a child with autism, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers from Kaiser Permanente looked at the side effects of antidepressants taken during pregnancy and found that a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) had the strongest link to children born with autism. The findings were published this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Researchers looked at 298 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a control group of 1,507 children. They found that mothers who took some form of SSRI antidepressant during pregnancy were twice as likely to have a child with an autism spectrum disorder than mothers who did not. The strongest association was with use of the antidepressants during the first trimester.
In their conclusions, the scientists said that the results of their study suggests a possible moderate link between SSRI antidepressants and autism, calling for more expansive studies. They pointed out that doctors may have to balance the mental health needs of the mother with the potential risk to the child.
The findings come nearly a year after a U.S. government-funded study found that giving SSRI antidepressants to autistic children, a popular off-label use for the drugs, appeared not to be helping them and may have been doing them harm. Researchers in that study found that SSRIs had no effect on autistic children’s behavior or in fighting their depression and anxiety, but exposed them to all of the side effects of antdepressants.
SSRIs are a relatively new class of antidepressants, which help reduce symptoms of depression by preventing certain nerve cells in the brain from re-absorbing the chemical serotonin. These drugs are commonly used by millions of Americans with depression.
Although the drugs have been found to cause fewer side effects than older anti-depressants, use of the Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac and other antidepressants during pregnancy has been linked to a risk of other birth defects.
More than 800 families have filed a Paxil lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline on behalf of children diagnosed with persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN) and other health problems, alleging that the drug maker failed to disclose information that was known about the risk of congenital heart defects from Paxil use during pregnancy. GlaxoSmithKline has reportedly reached birth defect settlement agreements in hundreds of Paxil cases.
In recent months, momentum has been growing for similar birth defect lawsuits over Zoloft, which is one of the most prescribed medications in the United States. A number of lawyers throughout the country have started advertising for potential Zoloft lawsuits, alleging that Pfizer failed to adequately warn about the potential side effects of Zoloft for unborn children.