There does not appear to be a connection between taking antidepressant medication during pregnancy and the risk of autism, according to a new study that could not find evidence of an association between the two.
Antidepressants were the third most commonly prescribed medication for people of any age in the United States between the years 2005 and 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and they were the most commonly used prescription medication by people aged 18 to 44 years.
Previous studies suggested that taking antidepressants during pregnancy increases the risk for autism by as much as fivefold. Researchers from Aarhus University worked to establish a correlation between antidepressant use and elevated autism risk but could not find any such association.
Jakob Christensen and his team of researchers undertook the largest study of its kind, following 600,000 Danish children born between 1996 and 2006. Initially, their results showed the risk for autism in children born to pregnant women taking antidepressants was nearly 2 percent, as compared to only 1.5 percent in women who did not use these drugs. Once the researchers accounted for the presence of psychiatric conditions in other family members, however, the risk for autism associated with antidepressant use dropped to minimal levels.
This means that the researchers could not find any reason to think the use of antidepressants during pregnancy raises the risk for autism; a pregnant woman with depression has the same risk whether she takes medication for the condition or not. Previous studies confirm a family history of a mental disorder, such as depression, increases the risk for autism – this study shows that the most common treatment for depression does not increase autism risk.
Doctors most commonly prescribe SSRIs to treat depression. SSRIs, short for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, act on a chemical in the brain known as serotonin. This study provides useful knowledge to physicians caring for pregnant women with depression.