Study finds link between prenatal antidepressant use and autism risk

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Prenatal antidepressant use appears to be linked to a statistically higher risk for autism in offspring, suggests a study in The BMJ.

Autism rates were highest among 3300 Swedish children exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy (4%), compared with 12,000 children of mothers with a psychiatric disorder but no prenatal antidepressant exposure (3%), and 240,000 with no maternal psychiatric disorder or antidepressant exposure in utero (2%).

Analyses of propensity-score matching, discordant siblings, and paternal antidepressant use didn’t significantly change the results. The authors caution that there still could be some unmeasured genetic confounding since the results were only significant for autism without intellectual disability, which may be a more heritable condition.

An editorialist notes that “even if the association between antidepressant use and autism is casual, only 2% of cases would be prevented if no women with psychiatric disorders used antidepressants during pregnancy, which must be carefully weighed against the substantial health consequences associated with untreated depression.”

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