According to a study, use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants during pregnancy could result in an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.73 The study revealed double the risk of autism spectrum disorders linked to maternal treatment with SSRI antidepressants in the year before delivery with treatment in the first trimester associated with the strongest effect.
Researchers carried out a case-controlled, population-based study in 298 children having autism spectrum disorders and 1,507 randomly chosen control. Data on maternal usage of maternal mental health history, antidepressant medications and autism demographics was obtained from medical records. In utero use of antidepressant medications was reported in 6.7% of cases and 3.3% of controls.
The study found that mothers of children later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders were twice as likely to have been prescribed antidepressants at least once in the year before delivery, and more than 3 times as likely to have been prescribed antidepressants in the 1st trimester of pregnancy.
To further assess if the observed link between autism spectrum disorders and prenatal SSRI exposure risk could be due to treatment with SSRIs as opposed to the anxiety or depression for which the women were being treated, an analysis was performed of the subgroup of women having a mental health disorder history in the year before delivery . Risk of autism spectrum disorders linked to the use of SSRIs at any time throughout this year remained relatively greater in this subgroup, but was not of statistical importance.
Earlier research has showed that abnormalities in serotonin pathways and serotonin levels could play a part in autism. Together these studies indicate the possibility that prenatal exposure to SSRIs might directly affect the developing brain, perhaps selectively in fetuses having serotonin related gene abnormalities. Physiologic changes associated with maternal depression or stress in pregnancy, combined with SSRI exposure, could play a role in changes in fetal brain development resulting in later-diagnosed autism spectrum disorders.