While these findings help to add to our understanding of autism, it is important to recognize that this study does not prove that antidepressant use causes autism. It is difficult to determine whether the increased risk of ASD is the result of antidepressants or the result of the underlying depression.
Researchers looked at data from more than 145,000 births between 1998-2009. They found that when mothers took antidepressants during the second and third trimesters, the chance that the child would develop ASD was higher when compared to children whose mothers did not take antidepressants. Keep in mind that the overall risk of having a child with autism is 1%. This study suggests that the risk increases to 1.87% if a woman is taking certain antidepressants.
The increase was seen with a specific type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medicines and include medications like citalopram (Celexa®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®) and sertraline (Zoloft®).
There are a number of causes of ASD but we don’t know all of them. More research is needed. However, there are some factors that we know increase the chance of ASD:
- Having pregnancy complications. Some research shows that there may be a link between ASD and pregnancy complications that lead to low birthweight, premature birth or cesarean birth.
- Taking certain prescription medicines, like valproic acid or thalidomide, during pregnancy. Taking these medicines during pregnancy has been linked with a higher risk of having a child with ASD.
- Having an older parent. Babies born to older parents are more likely to have ASD.
- Having genes linked to ASD. Researchers are studying a number of genes that may be linked to ASD. Children who have a brother or sister with ASD are more likely to have ASD themselves.
- Having a genetic or chromosomal condition. ASD happens more often in children who also have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, like fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis.
Important: If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and are taking antidepressants, you should not stop taking them until you talk to your health care provider. Together you can look at the possible risks of these drugs on your baby as well as the risk of having your depression come back if you stop taking your medicine. Learn as much as you can about the medicines so you can make the best choice for you and your baby.
Have questions? Email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.
Tags: antidepressants, ASD, autism, autism spectrum disorders, depression, depression during pregnancy, medications, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)