Antidepressants likely don't cause autism

Youngsters are 81 per cent more likely to be on the spectrum if their mother took drugs for'the blues, scientists found

In the new paper published by the USA journal JAMA Pediatrics, Antonia Mezzacappa of the Bicetre University in France and colleagues reviewed and analyzed 10 studies that have explored associations between fetal exposure to antidepressants and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Perry Wilson, MD, a MedPage Today physician reviewer and Yale nephrologist, who wasn't involved in the study, said in an exclusive interview that taken together, the results of the three studies do suggest a slightly higher risk of autism in children born to mothers who were taking antidepressants - but the greater the control for confounders, the more tenuous the relationship becomes, and it's not clear if the antidepressants are the cause of the condition. Pregnant women with untreated depression are more likely to have severe postpartum depression, and their children are more likely to be born prematurely or at a low birth weight, Vigod said.

"To our knowledge, this is one of the strongest studies to show that exposure to antidepressants during early pregnancy is not associated with autism, ADHD or poor fetal growth when taking into account the factors that lead to medication use in the first place", said Brian D'Onofrio, professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who led the study.

"The additional comparisons provide further evidence that other factors - not first-trimester exposure to antidepressants - explain why women who took these medications during early pregnancy were more likely to have offspring with these pregnancy and neurodevelopmental problems", D'Onofrio said.

The research, reported today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found significant evidence for only a slight increase in risk for premature birth in the infants of mothers who used antidepressants during the first trimester of pregnancy. "And we found there was no difference in rates of autism among those siblings".

In case of uncontrolled analysis, the study revealed that antidepressant use during early pregnancy resulted in a 1.5 times increased risk of premature birth.

'However, I would be very cautious about reaching a conclusion that antidepressants treatment in pregnancy itself is causing autism.

Link Between Antidepressant Consumption And Autism?

Some studies appeared to show a connection, while others showed none. However, for women with depression, the happiness doesn't always set in; instead it's fear of how antidepressants will affect their baby's health.

Writing in JAMA Pediatrics, the team of scientists said up to 15 per cent of women have depression during pregnancy. However, researchers warn that there are still other risks.

"These results are consistent with the hypothesis that genetic factors, familial environmental factors, or both account for the population-wide associations between first-trimester antidepressant exposure and these outcomes", the authors wrote. D'Onofrio says their findings point to other issues besides medication.

Isolating maternal mood disorders from genetic factors is the next step, Oberlander and Zwaigenbaum noted, adding that these studies are a reminder that children of mothers with depression, regardless of exposure to prenatal antidepressants, face a higher risk of developmental disturbances that warrants attention. The study was divided into two segments: to determine if the association between antidepressants and autism can be explained by comparing siblings, and time of exposure.

Taking antidepressants during pregnancy is a personal decision to be discussed with your doctor. "What would be best for these women and children?"

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