Pregnancy Antidepressant Use May Increase Autism Risk: Study

According to the results of new research, the use of antidepressants may double a pregnant woman’s risk of giving birth to an autistic child, raising further concerns about the side effects of antidepressants during pregnancy.

In a study published in the British Medical Journal on April 19, researchers from the U.K. identified a link between parental depression, antidepressant use and a risk of autism spectrum disorders.

According to the findings, women who took any antidepressant while pregnant have an increased risk of having a child with autism, compared to previous studies which have linked use of popular antidepressants like Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft to birth defects and malformations.

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The research was conducted in Stockholm, Sweden, where researchers looked at data on 4,429 cases of autism spectrum disorder and more than 40,000 controls. They found that women who took any antidepressant while pregnant were about twice as likely to give birth to a child that would later test on the autism spectrum.

According to the analysis, antidepressant use may explain 0.6% of all cases of autism, or roughly one out of every 167 children with autism were born to mothers who used antidepressants while pregnant.

The study is at least the second to link antidepressants to autism. In July 2011, researchers from Kaiser Permanente reported that the use of SSRI antidepressants while pregnant was linked to twice the risk of giving birth to an autistic child, similar to what was found in this latest report.

In both cases, researchers note that doctors need to weigh the mother’s mental health needs with the potential risk to the child.

Side Effects of Antidepressants in Pregnancy

In addition to autism, many popular antidepressants have been linked to a risk of serious health problems for children exposed to the medication before birth, including septal heart defects, skull malformations, neural tube defects, abdominal defects, spina bifida and other serious injuries.

Recent studies have also found that antidepressant use in pregnancy may increase the risk of seizure problems and delay of infant development milestones, such as sitting and walking are affected by antidepressant use during pregnancy.

Pregnancy antidepressant use may also been linked to an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), which is a serious respiratory disorder that may cause insufficient blood flow to the lungs, leading to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

In recent years, a growing number of Zoloft lawsuits and Paxil lawsuits have been filed in courts throughout the United States on behalf of children born with defects and malformations after exposure to the medication during pregnancy. The complaints allege that the manufacturers of the medications failed to adequately research the risks associated with use of the antidepressant in pregnancy, or provide proper warnings to women about the risk of becoming pregnant while using the medication.


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