Montreal – A study suggests that women who take antidepressants during the last trimesters of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are antidepressant drugs found in escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). Although it is advised that pregnant women don’t take any medications without a doctor’s recommendation or approval, this was due to a general safety concern. However, a study has found that the intake of SSRI during pregnancy increases the risk of giving birth to a child with spectrum disorder by 87 percent.

The study found that the use SSRIs during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in the newborn child. Credit:

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract, blood platelets, and the central nervous system and is responsible for maintaining the mood balance. A deficit of serotonin may lead to depression. The neurotransmitter is critical to fetal brain development, which occurs mainly during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. SSRIs interfere with the function of serotonin, which might affect brain development in the unborn child, according to the study experts.

The study, led by Takoua Boukhris, MSc, of the University of Montreal and colleagues, found that the risk lays within the last trimesters of pregnancy and not within the first trimester or year before pregnancy.

The lengthy investigation of 12 years studied 145,456 births in the province of Quebec, Canada. 4,724 of them were exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy. 1,054 of the infants were diagnosed with ASD. Out of those children, 31 were born to women who had taken antidepressants during the last 6 months of pregnancy. However, SSRI drugs were taken in 22 of those cases. Five children who were born to women taking more than one type of antidepressant had a 95 percent increase chance of having ASD.

The study which took place from 1998 to 2009, was linked to the rate of antidepressant use in the United States that relates to autism. In 1999, 5.7 percent of pregnant women took antidepressants; this number increased significantly to 13.3 percent in 2003. Autism as well has risen from 0.04 to 1 percent.

Depression during pregnancy can be of great risk to both the mother and to the child. Untreated depression may lead to poor eating, increase appetite for smoking and drinking and even conduct to denial of taking pre-natal vitamins. On the other hand, taking antidepressants may lead to higher risk of ASD. However, psychotherapy and exercise can be helpful to depressed pregnant women who don’t wish to continue drug intake during the 9 months.

Source: Med Page Today