A study published online this week in the journal Pediatrics reports that boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants in the womb than typically developing children.
Boys whose mothers took SSRIs – including Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (certaline) – during pregnancy were also more likely to have developmental delays, HealthDay News reports.
Li-Ching Lee, who is a co-author of the study and an associate scientist in the epidemiology department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said, “We found prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorders relative to typical development.” The greatest risk comes from exposure during the first trimester, according to HealthDay News. For children with autism, SSRI exposure occurred in 5.9 percent of pregnancies; SSRI exposure occurred in 5.2 percent of pregnancies for children with developmental delays.
The study included 966 mother-child pairs. Nearly 800 of the children were male, with an average age of about 4 years at the time of the study, HealthDay News reports. About 500 of the children had an autism spectrum disorder, 154 had some form of developmental delay, and 320 were typically developing children. The boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to SSRIs in pregnancy, with the rate highest for those exposed during the first trimester. Boys with developmental delays were three to five times more likely to have been exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy than were typically developing children, and the risks was highest when exposure occurred in the third trimester.
The study found an association between prenatal use of SSRIs and autism risk in boys, but did not prove cause and effect. The authors note that untreated depression also poses risks to mother and fetus. Lee said many factors must be considered in making the “complex decision” about whether to use these medications during pregnancy, according to HealthDay News. The authors caution that their study should not be the basis for treatment decisions – women should discuss SSRI treatment with their doctors.