Prenatal exposure to antidepressants heightens the baby’s autism risk, a recent study featured in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on December 14 has revealed.
Research was led by Anick Bérard, professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Montreal, Canada, and was conducted by analyzing medical data collected during the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort, between 1998 and 2009.
It was determined that 1,054 of all the 145,456 babies included in this trial had been eventually diagnosed with autism, and expectant mothers who had taken antidepressants, especially during their second or third trimester of pregnancy had an 87% higher likelihood of giving birth to a child suffering from this neurodevelopmental disorder.
Moreover, among those who had been administered selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are one of the most frequently prescribed drugs against depression and anxiety, the probability had soared by as much as 117%.
On the other hand, there was no statistically significant danger encountered among pregnant women who had taken antidepressants solely during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Prior research had linked autism, which currently affects around 1 out of 45 American kids, with other risk factors, such as advanced maternal age, genetic predispositions, low socioeconomic status and toxic substances from the environment.
Another study has suggested that kids whose mothers suffered from the common flu during their pregnancy also had a higher susceptibility to being affected by autism.
Now, for the first time ever, it has been discovered that even antidepressants contribute significantly to this mental condition, which manifests itself through repetitive and stereotypical behavior, coupled with difficulty when interacting or communicating with others.
One possible explanation for this association may be linked to the fact that SSRIs such as Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro disrupt the normal production of serotonin. This negatively impacts the baby’s neural development while still in the womb, by hampering cellular division and the formation of synapses.
Autism now affects around 2.24% of all U.S. children, whereas back in 1966 it was encountered among just 0.04% of them. This upward trend has occurred simultaneously with a rise in antidepressant use among expectant mothers: 5.7% in 1999, versus 13.3% in 2003.
However, as study authors point out, more research should be conducted in order to establish a more solid cause and effect relationship between prenatal antidepressants and autism.
Until more conclusive evidence becomes available, pregnant women should still be aware of this danger to which they may be exposing their growing fetus, by continuing to use medication to combat clinical depression during mid pregnancy and beyond.
On the other hand, doctors warn that isn’t entirely advisable to halt antidepressant use abruptly, because leaving chronic depression untreated can increase the risk of substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.
As emphasized by Dr. Alan Manevitz, attending psychiatrist at Lennox Hill and New York Presbyterian Hospital, the best solution would be to consult with a mental health professional, so as to identify alternate courses of action.
For instance, in some cases, where expectant mothers suffer from dysthymia (mild, low-grade depression), other types of treatment could be recommended, such as physical exercise or cognitive behavioral therapy, which have also been proven effective in combating negative thinking patterns.
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