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.
Analysts 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
. 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.