The Possible Link between Antidepressants and Autism Disorders

A recent study by John Hopkins University has discovered that there is a significant link between prenatal exposure to antidepressant medications and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in boys. Researchers found that early prenatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), taken for depression and anxiety, significantly increased the risk of ASD. The SSRIs in discussion include Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil. The researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins discovered that the intake of these drugs increased the risk for ASD three-fold.

This study included nearly 1,000 mother-child pairs from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study, a case-control study. The researchers broke down the data into three groups: those diagnosed with ASD, those with developmental delays (DD), and those with typical development (TD). The children studied ranged from 2 to 5 years old, and the majority of the children were boys. Furthermore, 82.5% of the group with Autism Spectrum Disorders consisted of boys. While girls were included in the study, the substantially stronger effect in boys alone suggests possible gender differences in the level of exposure from SSRIs.

Dr. Li-Ching Lee, researcher at John Hopkins states, “we found prenatal SSRI exposure was nearly three times as likely in boys with ASD relative to typical development, with the greatest risk when exposure took place during the first semester.” He continues, “SSRI was also elevated among boys with DD, with the strongest exposure effect in the third trimester”.

Serotonin is critical to brain development, especially in its very early stages, so exposure to drugs that may affect serotonin levels can have significant effects on the developmental outcomes of the child. The intake of SSRIs have increased significantly in recent years, and therefore scientists are focused on further examining if these drugs have played a large factor in the dramatic rise of Ausism disorders in the U.S. About one-third of children with Autism has serotonin levels that are higher than average. Researchers think that these high levels play a huge role in the development of abnormal brain circuitry.

”This study suggests that there are some risks associated with SSRI exposure and that the risk is higher in boys,” states Dr. Eric Hollander, Director of the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Hollander also states that even if research confirms the much higher risk for boys after SSRI exposure, mothers should know that the risk is still low.

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing additional research studies on July 2nd in NYC. Among the speakers is Dr. Hollander, Chairman of ICare4Autism’s Advisory Council, who will be discussing the recent advances in Autism research. To select tickets, please click here.

As Autism Awareness Month continues, ICare4Autism will be sharing more of the cutting-edge ways that scientists and researchers are studying Autism disorders. We will also be highlighting several self-advocates and stories of hope. We hope that you will share these stories, and use the month of April to spread awareness about Autism! Please make a difference and donate today!

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