Study Questions Link Between Autism and Antidepressants in Pregnancy

A new study casts doubt on the potential link between autism and antidepressant use during pregnancy, finding that there is no connection, despite prior research that has suggested women face an increased risk of giving birth to an autistic child after using SSRI antidepressants while pregnant.

Researchers from Denmark report in the New England Journal of Medicine that they could find no increased risk of autism among children born to mothers who used medications from a popular class of antidepressants, which include Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and others. The findings are nearly identical to another Danish autism study reported in November.

Researchers from the Statens Serum Institute of Copehagen looked at data on more than 600,000 children born in Denmark. Despite the size of the study, researchers only found 52 children with autism and prenatal exposure to an SSRI. Therefore, they concluded that they could find no correlation between the two.

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This study, and a similar study published recently in Clinical Epidemiology, both contradict the findings of a study published in April in the British Medical Journal, which indicated that there was a link between parental depression, antidepressant use and the risk of autism. That study looked at 4,429 autistic children and more than 40,000 controls and found that women who took any type of antidepressant while pregnant faced twice the risk of giving birth to an autistic child than their peers.

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.

Antidepressant Pregnancy Risks

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 has 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 SSRIs 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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