Risk of Autism Linked to Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft Use During Pregnancy: Study

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By: Staff Writers | Published: July 6th, 2011

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.

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There Are 27 Comments So Far • (Add Your Comments)

  1. Having taken Prozac for many years, I am so disgusted to learn that this may have been the cause of both of my children being autustic.

  2. I took Zoloft for 90 days off and on throughout my pregneancy and my son has a mild form of autism called Asperger Syndrom.

  3. I took Zoloft during pregnancy. My child has Aspergers, ADHD, and ODD

  4. i took zoloft all thru my pregnancy, doctors said it was ok…my son has severe adhd, aspergers some odd and ocd… i have been thinking it was my fault, when in fact it was the doctors and pharmacietical companies…
    what gets me is the doc said not to breastfeed for the first 3 days after he was born…

  5. It is a difficult and painful experience to have a child wih problems like that…but i don’t think you can know for sure that zoloft was the cause. You must have been taking it for depression or something and i wonder if there are links between depression, alcoholism and adhd, perhaps asbergers. It is probably a genetic disorder. Does anyone in your extended family have those things? Was there an “eccentric” aunt or uncle in the family tree?

    Try not to blame yourself or the meds because i don’t believe there has been any link from antidpressants to those disorders. It’s just so painful and you wish it could have been avoided. I know. But chances are that it couldn’t. Love your child and get all the support you can for yourself and your child. Know that he can grow out of this develomental problem depending on severity and miracles happen. I have seen them happen. You didnt cause it and chances are neither did the medication. My heart goes out to you and I understand. I wish you peace, erika.

  6. Sorry, i hadn’t read the article. I only saw your post. I still wonder if the link isnt related to the reason the person took the antidepressants (depression) and a genetic component. no one can know for sure the cause.

  7. I have always wondered if anti depressants had something to do with Autism. I have 2 boys. My first son was born in 1996 and I took Prozac throughout my pregnancy. He was diagnosed at the age of 3 with Autism. I still had depression issues when I became pregnant in 2004 with my second son but I REFUSED anti depressants because I was worried about a link to Autism. My 6 year old does NOT have Autism. I strongly believe the Prozac had something to do with my son having Autism. I am glad I was older and more aware when I had my second child!

  8. One more thing…………..even if anti depressants increase the risk of Autism, why are 4 out of 5 children diagnosed with Autism boys??? That has always puzzled me.

  9. My wife took paxil during her pregnancy, and our daughter is autistic. My wife was being treated for anxiety and depression, not autism, so I don’t believe her condition caused our child to be autistic. It seems much more likely that the paxil was the culprit. Doctors hand out antidepressants like candy, more and more kids are born autistic and these antidepressants have proved to cause a 50% increase in the risk of a child being born autistic. How many more studies and how many more kids have to be born autistic to make this connection.

  10. I took zoloft 25mg with both of my pregnancies. My 3 yrs. 8 mo. year old son is autistic (diagnosed at 2 yrs 10 mo.), My 2 year old daughter does not appear to be autistic. My husband whom is a physician’s casually tells me last night that the reason our son is autistic is because I took zoloft during my pregnancy. I am devastated that I could have possibly done this to my son. What didn’t my ob tell me to stop taking it? She said it was ok especially since I was taking such a low dose. Actually two separate ob/gyn’s told me this. I feel sick.

  11. I have a neice and a cousin with Autism. My cousin was premature, other than family hx, I don’t know if the her mother, also cousin took any meds, but my neice was on a related by marriage, I know the mother didn’t take anything, had good prenatal care, and other than ADD, there was nothing genetic found in her testing, her Autism was an incidental issue, no genetic markers, no meds, no lack of prenatal care. Sometimes, doo happens, just because. I have heard reasons for fertility drugs causing problems too, but FAMILY members are saying it Doc. That is just cruel to say that without testing facts, especially to your wife, you were there and knew she was taking it, shame on you.

  12. I had taken Zoloft during the pregnancy with my son. He was diagnosed with autism around the age of 2. I took high doses (100mg) and higher during my second and third trimester. I have a daughter who is 9 and is fine. I didn’t take the medication with her. My son is now 7. We had he tested to see if this was genetic, it wasn’t. I truly believe that this has caused the autism. The doctors told me that it was safe to take during my pregnancy. Being a nurse, I believed them. I had thought too that I did something wrong, but now I know that I didn’t. I think the manufacturers of these drug companies need to take resposibility for miss marketing these drugs.Now I question every medication that I take and do research. These drs that said it was safe disgust me!!

  13. I have a 13 year old who does not have aspergers syndrome and I did not take zoloft durring my pregnancy with her. I have a seven year old and she does have aspergers and I was on and off zoloft around that time. hmmm????

  14. My daughter who is married and has two son’s, was on anti-depressants during her pregnancy’s. Her first son, now 11 years old has Asbergers, and her 9 year old was born with two holes in his diaphram, and had to have surgery at birth.

  15. This article gives me pause, upsets me (especially Debbie’s comments, which sounded rather judgmental of others) and makes me wonder… while prgnant with my youngest son (since all these things worked so well with my oldest who was a straight A honors student and a musical prodigy), I worked very consciously at eating an extremely healthy, whole / raw / organic food, chemical and preservative free diet, took the highest grade prenatal vitamins, avoided alcohol and even played classical music through headphones on my belly (to promote higher brain function)during my pregnancy, but was given Zoloft during the last trimester to “prevent postpartum”. I am now in the process of having my little boy (who is 4 1/2 yrs old) asessed for Autism / Asperger’s and this drug is the only thing I can think of that would have been a larger than average contributing factor. He requires constant supervision and herbal supplements to help keep his emotions / moods more stable. I can’t tell you how many nights after putting him to bed that I sit and cry in frustration over his outbursts and difficulty cooperating with me in even the most simple tasks.
    I am SO tired of the drug companies pushing their harmful “wares” under the guise of “helping us”, only to find out later that they didn’t do their homework on the long-term ramifications and we get to pay the higher price. “Big Pharm” has made it painfully evident that we are nothing more than their Guinea pigs.

  16. Stephanie I feel for you, I have been going through the same with my son, and my pregnancy was similar except for taking Paxil early in the pregnancy. I suggest you get the book “The Explosive Child” by Ross W. Greene, you’ll learn a great deal about handling and eventually avoiding situations that bring about meltdowns. It’s been over a year since my 10 year old has had a meltdown and I believe it’s due to the strategies I’ve learned from the book, along with therapy with a children’s counselor. There may always be behavioral problems but as long as I don’t have to deal with the violent meltdowns I’ll happily deal with the much milder situations!

    As a side note, I detest medications nowadays, and yet doctors feel that I “don’t want to get better” because I don’t want to take antidepressants. I wish I had felt that way before I got pregnant 11 years ago! What else are drug companies not telling us?

  17. I am the mother of 5. My last 2 children are twins. I took zoloft throughout the pregnancy. The twins are now 9, 1 diagnosed with autism at the age of 5 and the other going through testing now to determine if he has ADHD. I often wondered if there was something I had done wrong, as none of the others had any issues.

  18. Remember this is a NEW study linking paxil/zoloft to autism. I’m sure your doctor has/ had no idea that their may be a link between these drugs and autism because it wasn’t even suggested as a possibility by the drug companies who apparently( if this proves to be true) didn’t do enough research. Doctors don’t usually do their own research, they just believe what drug reps tell them or what is in the new england journal of medicine. Theirs definitely something going on with the rapid increase in the growth of autism

  19. I am the mother of two children. My daughter, who is now 12, was going through chemo. for cancer when she was only 4 years old, and the doctor said it would be O.K. for me to take Zoloft while I was pregnant with our son during that time. Since then, he came four weeks early (she was 2 wks late), has had digestive issues, allergies, and a possible mild form of autism (sensory seeking disorder). He also had trouble eatting and sleeping as an infant. Now, at age 8, he complains of shocks in his body. My daughter had none of these things, and I was not on any antidepressents while pregnant with her. In fact, other than the cancer, she’s had great health. We sent him through kindergarden for two years, and he is just now in the last year come a long way to improving in his behavior. All I can say is that I would die for my kids before I’d give them any problems in their life. Why can’t these drug companies understand the importance of this?

  20. I took Zoloft while breastfeeding my 2nd child and he is autistic. They said it was safe to take while breastfeeding and I can’t help but wonder if me taking it was the cause of his autism. Zoloft did help with my PPD but if I knew what I knew now I would not of taken this risk, afterall I feel like I was unwillingly part of a huge experiment and now my son is paying the price :’(

  21. I did not take prozac while i was pregnate. But I did while i was breastfeeding when my son was 3 months old. I breastfed him til he was 7 months old. I was 19 at the time and knew no better. I have researced info on this and found that Fluoxidine (prozac) does appear in breastmilk 15 to 20 micrograms a day. They have not ruled it out but it is enough to mess with a childs nervous system and brain development. Like a drug addict who uses drugs can damage their brain. My son is autistic along with 4 other diagnosiss. I strongly believe that taking prozac while breastfeeding did this to him but no lawfirm is taking on breastfeeding cases.

  22. I was taking zoloft with while pregnant with my now 2.5 yr old and I am trying to get him diagnosed with Autism . Now im worried that my 8 mo old is going to have problems because I took Prozac throughout my pregnancy with him.I was told by both Drs that this was safe to take during pregnancy after questioning them both. They made me feel stupid for even asking . I am hitting brick walls trying to get him the help he needs because to have him diagnosed is $1500 its ridiculous but I will do what I have to do to help my child !!

  23. i took prozac while pregnant with my son and he has Aspergers, O.D.D., Major depression and a processing disorder.

  24. my son i was pregant when i took paxil i was 5 and a half weeks early i had csection he was premature he has adhd and he gets out of breath easy and takes a inhaler for bronctics

  25. I was on Zoloft for 3 years at 150 mg, and quit taking it after i found out i was pregnate with my second child, i was almost 3 months along before i found out. He has Aspergers, ODD, ADHD. My daughter who is older has never had any problems with her health, my son has been seeing specialist since he was 7 months old for various health issues. i worried then what the zoloft was doing to my baby since i took it pretty much the enitre 1st trimester at such a high does, along with Trazadone, at 150 mg daily also.

  26. I have 8 kids i took paxil zoloft through out my 3rd pregnancy and my daughter is the only one born with autism my other 7 are healthy i also took months before i become pregnant

  27. I have a 7 year old son who was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Al Disorder (this is the diagnosis that all Autistic spectrum disorders fall under in the new DSM). I took prozac for years before and during my entire pregnancy. We have no history of any sort of disorder in our family history. In addition he has a very misshapen head that he wore a helmet to correct (never worked). I am so devastated to read all of these posts…I didn’t really want to believe his diagnosis was real and going to effect him for the rest if his life but now I see the connection without any formal research to convince me.

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