Antidepressants in pregnancy tied to autism

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Top 5 Facts About Autism

(Reuters Health) - Women who take antidepressants during pregnancy may be more likely to have children with autism, a Canadian study suggests.

The overall risk is low - less than 1 percent of the nearly 150,000 babies in the study were diagnosed with autism by age six or seven.

SEE ALSO: Childhood exposure to pesticides linked to lung disease

But children of women who took antidepressants during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy were 87 percent more likely to develop autism than kids born to women who didn't take the drugs, researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.

Also see notable people who have battled depression:

14 PHOTOS
Notable people who have battled/are battling depression
See Gallery
Antidepressants in pregnancy tied to autism
Actress Kristen Bell arrives at the People's Choice Awards 2017 in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Musician Lady Gaga performs during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Actor Dwayne Johnson poses at the world premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Moana" as a part of AFI Fest in Hollywood, California, U.S., November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Presenter Sarah Silverman arrives at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Cara Delevingne attends H&M and Cara Delevingne to celebrate the opening of a new location at Westfield World Trade Center at H&M on November 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for H&M)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: John Hamm attends the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Owen Wilson poses for photographers at the screening of Zoolander 2 at a cinema in central London, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Demi Lovato performs at the Global Citizen Festival at Central Park in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Wayne Brady, the latest actor to perform in the new play 'White Rabbit Red Rabbit,' performs at The Westside Theatre on April 4, 2016 in New York City. Each week 'White Rabbit Red Rabbit' has a unique new guest star. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)
Actress Kerry Washington arrives at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Musician Sheryl Crow arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Author J.K. Rowling attends the premiere of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Trevor Noah attends the Paramount Pictures with The Cinema Society & Svedka Host An After Party For 'Office Christmas Party' at Mr. Purple at the Hotel Indigo LES on December 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

"Depression is a serious and debilitating condition," said lead study author Anick Berard of the University of Montreal. "This study is not advocating untreated depression. However, it is certainly advocating treatment of depression with something other than antidepressants during pregnancy."

Some women, particularly if their symptoms are mild, may be able to manage depression during pregnancy with exercise or psychotherapy, Berard added.

The study doesn't prove antidepressants cause autism. It also doesn't explore the potential harms of untreated depression or assess whether remedies other than medication might be safer or more effective for women and their babies.

Left untreated, depression during pregnancy is associated with underweight babies who are more likely to wind up in neonatal intensive care. Pregnant women with uncontrolled depression may not eat well or keep up with prenatal visits, and, in the most severe cases they may be at increased risk for suicide.

Like many drugs, antidepressants fall into a gray area during pregnancy, with insufficient evidence to definitively prove the harms or benefits. Often, doctors may reserve drugs for women with more severe depression.

Berard and colleagues studied singleton births in Quebec from 1998 to 2009, examining prescription records for the mothers as well as medical records for their babies.

Overall, about 3 percent of the babies were exposed to antidepressants in utero. Among this group, 89 percent had exposure during the first trimester and 54 percent had exposure later in pregnancy.

During an average follow up of more than six years, 1,054 children - 0.7 percent of the total - were diagnosed with autism. The majority of them were boys.

Among the 2,532 infants exposed to antidepressants during the second or third trimester, 1.2 percent were diagnosed with autism.

The increased risk was limited to a family of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that includes drugs such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa. SSRIs were linked to a more than doubled risk of autism.

Treatment with a combination of antidepressants during the second or third trimester was associated with more than quadrupled odds of autism, though the study included just five of these infants.

One shortcoming of the study is that it didn't control for the severity of maternal depression, making it difficult to assess whether the increased autism risk might be tied to the underlying disease instead of the drugs used for treatment. It also didn't account for the doses women were taking.

"In general, women who receive treatment are likely to have more severe and recurrent illness," said Dr. Roy Perlis, a psychiatry researcher at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who wasn't involved in the study.

The heightened risk in the rare instances when women took multiple types of antidepressants in the study might be because this treatment is reserved for women with the most severe symptoms, Perlis added by email. This may indicate that the increased autism risk is tied to the severity of depression, not to the medication.

Pregnant women who do take SSRIs should be reassured by the findings from this study and others that suggest the added autism risk linked to these drugs is only about additional case in every 200 births, said Dr. Bryan King, Director of Seattle Children's Autism Center and co-author of an accompanying editorial, in email to Reuters Health.

"This study looked only at one developmental outcome and there is no control group that would enable us to capture all of the potential harm that might have been prevented with the choice to treat depression," King said. "It is important that women have full discussions with their health care providers about the complex interplay of risks and benefits associated with depression treatment."

More from AOL.com:
Chicago police commander acquitted of battery: prosecutors
Navy SEALs make dream come true for 14-year-old battling leukemia for second time
Moderate drinking may be tied to fewer deaths in early Alzheimer's

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners

Man Felt Something Inside His Nose - But What Doctors Pull Out Leaves Everyone Stunned Man Felt Something Inside His Nose - But What Doctors Pull Out Leaves Everyone Stunned
20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job 20 Folks Recall Shocking Interview Moments That Made Them NOT Want the Job
Woman Feels Strange Lumps Under Her Dog's Fur - Then Realizes What Happened In Her Own Woman Feels Strange Lumps Under Her Dog's Fur - Then Realizes What Happened In Her Own