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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Drexel Study: In Utero Exposure to Antidepressants May Influence Autism Risk

A new study from researchers at Drexel University School of Public Health adds evidence that using common antidepressant medications during pregnancy may contribute to a higher risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children, although this risk is still very small. This new study, published online ahead of print last month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, suggests that under-reporting of maternal depression, if not properly considered in analyses, may influence results of studies trying to address this question.

Results from past studies of prenatal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and ASD risk have not been consistent. An ongoing challenge in this line of research is trying to tease apart potential effects of the medication on risk from the effects associated with the condition for which the medication was prescribed (most commonly depression). Based on past studies, both SSRIs and genetic factors associated with depression are likely associated with greater risk of ASD.

In the study, the Drexel team analyzed large population based registers of nearly 750,000 births in Denmark from 1997 through 2006. They found that about 1.5 percent of children born to women who had taken an SSRI during pregnancy were diagnosed with ASD, compared to about 0.7 percent of children born to an otherwise similar group of women not taking the medication.

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