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Antidepressant Side Effects May Increase Autism Risk When Used In Late Pregnancy: Study

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New research suggest that women who take popular antidepressants like Paxil or Zoloft late in pregnancy may increase their risk of giving birth to a child with autism. 

In a study published this week by the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, Canadian researchers found that late pregnancy use of a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), was linked to nearly twice the risk of having an autistic child, when compared to women who do not use the medications

Researchers looked at data on all pregnancies and children born in Quebec between January 1, 1998, to December 31, 2009, indicating that there was an 87% increased risk of a child being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) when any antidepressant was used during the second and/or third trimester. Looking specifically at SSRI antidepressants, such as Zoloft or Paxil, the risk increased to more than double.

“Use of antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the second and/or third trimester increases the risk of ASD 9j cu9pdrejl even after considering maternal depression,” the researchers concluded. “Further research is needed to specifically assess the risk of ASD associated with antidepressant types and dosages during pregnancy.”

SSRI antidepressants are some of the most widely used drugs in the United States, including blockbuster brands such as Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro and others.

This research is the latest in a series of studies that highlight potential concerns surrounding pregnancy use of antidepressants.

In a study published in April in Pediatrics, researchers from Johns Hopkins also found a link between the use of SSRIs during pregnancy and autism in boys. That study found the risk effectively tripled. However, research into the association has turned up inconsistent results.

In November 2013, a study published in the medical journal Clinical Epidemiology raised questions on whether there was an actual association between autism and SSRIs. The Danish researchers who conducted that study found no such link after looking at data on more than 600,000 children.

However, the Danish findings contradicted a study published in April in the British Medical Journal, which indicated that there is a link between parental depression, antidepressant use and the risk of autism. That study, which looked at 4,429 cases of autism and more than 40,000 controls, finding 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.

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 Concerns

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 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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