Major Study Links Autism To Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy

Women who take antidepressants during the late stages of pregnancy have an 87 percent increased risk of giving birth to a child who will be diagnosed with autism, according to a new study from researchers in Montreal. And for women who take the most common kind of antidepressant — SSRIs, or selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors — the risk is increased 200 percent.

Lead researcher Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal said in a video released by the school that she wasn’t surprised to find an association between antidepressant use and autism diagnoses in children, but she was surprised that it was so high for the leading class of antidepressants.

“We were expecting, in a way, to find an association,” said Bérard. “We were not expecting to find such a huge association between the most used class of antidepressants during pregnancy, which is the SSRI.”

About one in 68 children will be diagnosed with autism today, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a rate that has increased over the decades. While better diagnostic tools may account for some of this increase, researchers like Bérard are exploring whether environmental factors, like drug exposure in utero, may also contribute to the rising rates of autism.

In the U.S., about 4.5 percent of women use an antidepressant during pregnancy or in the three months before pregnancy. Prescription medication is also the most common treatment for depression in women of childbearing age (18 to 44 years).

Bérard’s analysis spanned 145,456 births between 1998 and 2009, following up with each family when the child was an average of six years old. After controlling for factors like gestational diabetes and hypertension, family history of autism, wealth, maternal age, —> Read More