Asthma Inhaler Use During Pregnancy May Increase Risk of Autism: Study

New research suggests that some popular asthma medications, such as albuterol, Foradil and Serevent, may increase the risk of autism for children when the inhalers are used during pregnancy. 

In a study published last week in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from Drexel University found that women who used certain asthma drugs during pregnancy face a slightly increased risk of having a child who would later be diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

Researchers looked at data on women who used a class of asthma drugs known as beta-agonists, also known as β-2-adrenergic receptor (B2AR) agonists. The study included data on nearly 60,000 women in Denmark’s medical registry, about 5,200 of whom had children who were diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum born between 1997 and 2006.

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The findings indicate that the use of beta agonists like albuterol, Foradil or Serevent during pregnancy was associated with a 30% increased risk of autism, overall, with the risk peaking at 50% higher when used during the second trimester. The researchers also said there was some indication that the longer a woman used the asthma drugs during pregnancy, the higher the risk of their child later being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study notes that the findings did not prove a causal link between asthma inhalers and autism when used during pregnancy, however. Researchers indicate that there are also serious risks if a woman with asthma does not control the condition during pregnancy, such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, and the need for neonatal intensive care upon birth.

“B2AR agonist exposure during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk for ASD,” they concluded. “If the effect is real, any intervention must be balanced against benefits of indicated medication use by pregnant women.”

In 2008, an FDA panel of advisors warned that Serevent and Foradil, should not be approved for treatment of asthma due to an increased risk of severe asthma attacks and deaths. The advisory panel did day that the drugs could continue to be used when combined with inhaled steroids, such as they are in drugs like Advair and Symbicort.

Asthma affects 20 million Americans, including 6.5 million children. It is a chronic disease with symptoms like wheezing, difficulty breathing and spasms, which can severely limit activities and impact quality of life.


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