Use of antidepressant medications during pregnancy may increase the risk of autism in the child, suggests a recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). Studies were performed to analyze the association between parental depression, use of antidepressants during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorders.
Researchers identified 4429 cases of autism spectrum disorder among which 1828 were with intellectual disability, while 2601 were without intellectual disability. The Swedish participants belonged to the age group of 4-17 years. Each case of autism spectrum disorder was compared with 10 living controls without autism having the same date (month and year) of birth and sex.
AdvertisementAnalysts identified parents who were diagnosed with depression or any other mood disorder before the birth of the child participating in the study. Mothers who were on antidepressants were divided into two groups based on the class of antidepressant drugs they used namely, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and non-selective monoamine reuptake inhibitors.
Other factors like age of the mother and father at birth of child, family income, education and occupation of the parents, ethnicity, maternal smoking, weight and APGAR score of the child during birth were also considered.
On analysis, maternal depression during pregnancy was associated with 60% increase in the risk of autism spectrum disorder in the child. The risk of autism without intellectual disability was much higher compared to risk of autism with intellectual disability. However, no significant link has been found between paternal depression and autism.
It was noted that use of antidepressant drugs of both the classes during pregnancy nearly doubled the risk of autism without intellectual disability in the child. The findings of this study fall in line with another previous study, which indicated the association between use of SSRI class of antidepressants during pregnancy and autism in children.
Researchers opine that the antidepressants cross the placental barrier, which could affect the brain development in the fetus. However, researchers have not ruled the possibility of any other mechanisms involved in the association between parental depression and autism.
The major limitation of this study was that the severity of depression during pregnancy was unknown and the data for antidepressant drugs usage was collected only during the first antenatal checkup.
Hence, the authors conclude that further extensive research is needed to determine whether severe depression during pregnancy or use of antidepressants increases the risk of autism in the child.
Parental depression, maternal antidepressant use during pregnancy, and risk of autism spectrum disorders: population based case-control study; BMJ 2013.