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SSRI Antidepressants Linked to Autism

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According to new research lead by the director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente, use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) by pregnant women may increase the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in their offspring, new research suggests.

A synopsis by Medscape.com reports that the study involved more than 1800 children and found an adjusted 2-fold increased risk for ASD among mothers who used an SSRI during the year before delivery and a 3-fold increased risk when SSRIs were ingested during the first trimester.

What is an SSRI?

According to the Mayo Clinic

SSRIs ease depression by affecting chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) used to communicate between brain cells. Most antidepressants work by changing the levels of one or more of these naturally occurring brain chemicals.

The Mayo Clinic also states that the SSRIs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression, with their generic names followed by brand names in parentheses, include:

Citalopram (Celexa)

Escitalopram (Lexapro)

Fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem)

Paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva)

Sertraline (Zoloft)

Fluoxetine combined with the atypical antipsychotic olanzapine (Symbyax)

What is Autism?

For parents with children suffering from autism this may seem like a silly question. However, given much of the misconceptions and stereotypes about autism, its important to give a cliff notes version for our readers.

According to autismspeaks.org

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders known as Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). The other pervasive developmental disorders are PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), Asperger Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Many parents and professionals refer to this group as Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Autismspeaks.org goes on to describe the symptoms of autism as follows:

Autism affects the way a child perceives the world and makes communication and social interaction difficult. The child may also have repetitive behaviors or intense interests. Symptoms, and their severity, are different for each of the affected areas – Communication, Social Interaction, and Repetitive Behaviors. A child may not have the same symptoms and may seem very different from another child with the same diagnosis. It is sometimes said, that if you know one person with autism; you know one person with autism.

The symptoms of autism typically last throughout a person’s lifetime. A mildly affected person might seem merely quirky and lead a typical life. A severely affected person might be unable to speak or care for himself. Early intervention can make extraordinary differences in a child’s development. How a child is functioning now may be very different from how he or she will function later on in life.

Why is this Important?

In our advanced medical society we typically are able to give a cause and effect diagnosis of most medical conditions through a differential diagnosis and/or diagnostic testing. Sadly, parents of children with autism rarely have been given a definitive cause/effect relationship.

According to the study, autism cases have increased from 4 to 5 per 10,000 in 1966 to almost 100 per 10,000 today.

"While at least some of this observed increase in prevalence can be attributed to changing diagnostic standards, availability of services, and greater public awareness, there is considerable scientific and public concern about environmental factors that may contribute to autism risk, most likely in interaction with genetic factors," write the investigators per the medscape.com article.

So while the research into autism and the apparent casual link between SSRIs is still in its infant stages, its important for the families and women who become pregnant to know this potential risk.

5 Comments

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  1. Grace says:
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    I have 5 kids & never took anti-depressants, BUT I did develop mild depression after my 3rd (who has a high functioning ASD) and it disappeared quickly when I began taking an omega-3 supplement recommended by a nutritionist after I had turned down Prozac from my dr.

    I realize this is not true for everyone, but knowing that I was deficient during the time I was pregnant with my 3rd & that certainly would have affected the development of his brain & immune system even if it was not necessarily “THE” cause, it certainly would have contributed.

    So I’m wondering if the SSRI study took into consideration the possibility that women who are more likely to develop depression, or at least certain TYPES of depression, are more likely to have a child develop autism?

  2. anna says:
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    Have there been any studies linking autism to women who have been on ssris for an extended amount of to.e but not during pregnancy?

  3. anna says:
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    Have there been any studies linking autism to women who have been on ssris for an extended amount of to.e but not during pregnancy?

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    Anna. Thank you for your comment. The scientific article relates a two fold increase for those who were on an SSRI a year before the delivery which would account for time in which a mother was not pregnant.

  5. Jean Marion says:
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    First pregnancy – depression, but no medications, first son born with Autism. Still a dependent at age 22.

    Second pregnancy – no depression, no medications, second son born normal. Always in a good mood, off to University…

    Third pregnancy – History of SSRI use for 1 year prior to pregnancy and during first trimester of pregnancy. (Stopped when it made me nauseous.)

    Third son born with Autism and possible Schizophrenia (won’t know for 7 more years.)

    Based upon these results I can only surmise that the medication did not effect the outcome of their mental disorders.

    I believe it is more related to family history and genetics.