A new study finds that children, especially boys, of mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy are at a greater risk for autism.
The risk was much higher when the exposure was during the first trimester.
What’s more, the study published this week in the journal Pediatrics discovered that boys with prenatal exposure to SSRIs — including Celexa, Zoloft and Paxil — were more likely to have developmental delays.
“We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure is during the first trimester,” study co-author Li-Ching Lee, an associate scientist in the department of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins, told WebMD.
Some 4 percent of pregnant women use SSRIs, which treat depression by increasing serotonin levels. In pregnant women, serotonin crosses into the placenta and also increases the hormone serotonin level of the fetus.
Interestingly, one third of autistic children have been found to have higher than normal serotonin levels. “Researchers think these high levels may lead to the development of abnormal brain circuitry, which may play a role in the development of some autism symptoms,” according to WebMD.
That said, the study authors advise pregnant women taking SSRIs to check with their doctors before tossing their pills. This was a small study with researchers evaluating 966 mother-child pairs and Lee and her colleagues concluded that more larger studies are needed to verify results. For one thing, most of the children (800) were boys and a study with more females needs to be conducted. Also, this study didn’t actually prove that SSRIs cause autism. What’s more, the risk for autism is still very low and patients and doctors need to weigh the risks around untreated depression.