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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy Tied to Autism Risk

But the risk is low, and it's important to treat depression in pregnant women, experts say
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Hollander noted that even if other research confirms the much higher risk for boys after SSRI exposure, women should know the risk is still low. "If the risk of autism is around 1 percent now, and you raise it to 3 percent, that still means that 97 percent of the time, you won't have an autism spectrum disorder. The chances are still overwhelming that they won't have a child with an autism spectrum disorder," he said.

Reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Ariela Frieder, also from Montefiore Medical Center, said this study's findings won't change her clinical practice.

"[This study] shows an association between the use of SSRIs and autism spectrum disorders. However, association does not mean causation, and this is very important for women to understand," she said.

Dr. Eyal Shemesh, chief of behavioral and developmental health in the department of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital, in New York City said: "It's very hard to do a definitive study of this. The confounders here are huge. They [the study authors] initially found no difference between the groups -- it was only when they looked specifically at gender-adjusted differences that they saw an association. We still don't know whether SSRIs are associated with more autism. We need to look further."

Shemesh added: "The one thing we really know with certainty is that depression is not good for pregnancy. Women who are depressed have bad outcomes and their kids don't do well. We need to treat depression, and there are psychotherapy options and medication options. You need to make a reasoned decision with your doctor. I would be very concerned about any woman just stopping her medication."

Montefiore's Frieder agreed that untreated depression is a serious risk, and recommended that women discuss the choice with their doctor and have an individualized risk/benefit assessment.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month said that one in 68 American children is now diagnosed with autism or a related disorder, which is a 30 percent increase from just two years ago when the estimate was one in 88 children.

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