While many women taking antidepressants choose to go off their medications during pregnancy, a growing number of women don’t. Now, new research points to an increased autism risk for fetuses in women who continue to take SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) including Zoloft and Paxil during pregnancy.
According to the research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, women who continued to take SSRIs during pregnancy increased their chance of having their child diagnosed as autistic by more than 200 percent.
The research team, led by professor Anick Bérard of the University of Montreal, reviewed data from nearly 150,000 Canadian pregnancies, which showed the correlation between SSRIs and having a child on the autism spectrum. Overall, the risk increased by 87 percent if the mother took any type of antidepressant during pregnancy. But the most significant increase occurred with SSRIs, which are among the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.
“Our study has established that taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy almost doubles the risk that the child will be diagnosed with autism by age 7, especially if the mother takes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors,” Bérard told Science Daily.
Antidepressant use has been steadily increasing in recent years, particularly SSRIs, which are used to treat a number of mental health issues ranging from anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders to premenstrual dysphoric disorder and PTSD.
Rates of autism have also been on the rise—one in 45 children is diagnosed with autism in the U.S.—but scientists have been unable to pinpoint a clear culprit. Ingredients in vaccinations have long been pointed to as the leading cause of autism, but the study linking the two was redacted by the publication after the research was found to be fraudulent.
The recent study builds on other research that’s also linked antidepressants to autism. According to a study published in 2014, boys diagnosed with autism were as much as three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRIs while in the womb. In 2011, research found a two-fold increase in the risk of autism after in utero exposure to SSRIs.
But what’s a woman to do if she finds herself pregnant while currently taking an antidepressant?
Definitely don’t stop taking your medication, says the researchers. Always talk with your physician before altering or stopping your medication.
“I don’t want to scare women — this is not the goal of the study — or make them feel guilty in any way, shape or form, but I want to empower them,” she told Huffington Post. “I hope that these types of studies actually empower women. More information is always a good thing.”
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