Antidepressants: an autism risk during pregnancy

A new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins has found an association between prenatal exposure of males to antidepressant medications and both autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and developmental disorders (DD) according to their study published in Pediatrics on April 14, 2014.

Previously, ASD has been shown to potentially have connections to many various things during pregnancy.  Some connections are with varying hormone levels and maybe even related to Vitamin D levels during this essential stage of development in the womb.  Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health decided to look at a common medication that messes with serotonin levels, and is common for some women to take during pregnancy.

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly found on the market as antidepressants. Some brand names are Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft.  Since serotonin is essential for neurodevelopment in the womb, and these drugs change the serotonin levels, the researchers postulated that there might be a connection between the two.

The researchers obtained data from 966 mother-child pairs and grouped the data based on whether the children had ASD, DD, or underwent normal development.  While the study looked both at males and females, there was a much stronger association between taking SSRIs and having ASD in males.  This may indicate a sex difference, and may also have implications as to why more males are diagnosed with ASD than females.

The study is only the first of few that plan on continuing looking at the effects of taking antidepressants during pregnancy.  It also showcases the difficulty of deciding to take these medication while pregnant due to the risks they may cause to the child.

To read the article:

Harrington, Rebecca A., et al. “Prenatal SSRI use and Offspring with Autism Spectrum Disorder Or Developmental Delay.” Pediatrics (2014).


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