Both the use of antidepressant medication during pregnancy and the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses in children have increased over the past two decades, which has raised concern about a possible connection. A study published in Clinical Epidemiology investigates whether such a causal link between prenatal exposure to antidepressants and ASD in the offspring exists and finds little evidence of a relationship.
Researchers from the Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark conducted the largest study to date on the correlation between antidepressant medication during pregnancy and ASD in children. They identified more than 660,000 children born from 1996 to 2000 whose mothers were, or were not, prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication during pregnancy. Children’s medical records were evaluated for ASD diagnosis.
The results showed that there was a 2% risk of having a child diagnosed with ASD for women who were prescribed SSRIs during pregnancy, compared with a 1.5% risk for mothers who did not receive an SSRI prescription.
“We know from previous studies that there is an increased risk for autism, among other things, if the parents have a mental diagnosis such as depression”, said Jakob Christensen, Ph.D., co-author and staff specialist at Aarhus University Hospital, “But, in contrast to smaller studies, we see that the risk of having a child with autism is largely the same regardless of whether the mother takes antidepressant medication or not during the pregnancy.” The authors concluded that genetic risk for ASD is likely the major contributing factor leading to development of the disorder.