Antidepressant Meds Could Increase Risk of Autism Emerging research suggests prenatal exposure to the most widely prescribed kind of antidepressants– especially during the first trimester — is associated with a modest increase in the risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder.

The class of antidepressant medications called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft.

The report is published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

“The prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) has increased over recent years,” the authors wrote. “Use of antidepressant medications during pregnancy also shows a secular increase in recent decades, prompting concerns that prenatal exposure may contribute to increased risk of ASD.”

In the study, researchers decided to evaluate if prenatal exposure to antidepressants, including SSRIs, is associated with an increase in ASD.

Researchers examined medical records for children drawn from the Childhood Autism Perinatal Study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Northern California. The authors included 298 children with ASD (case group) and their mothers, and 1,507 control children and their mothers in the study.

Twenty mothers of children in the case group (6.7 percent) and 50 mothers of children in the control group (3.3 percent) had at least one prescription for an antidepressant in the year prior to the birth of the study child.

Of the 20 case mothers who were prescribed antidepressants, 13 (65 percent) were prescribed SSRIs only, two (10 percent) were prescribed an SSRI in combination with another antidepressant and five (25 percent) were prescribed one or more non-SSRI antidepressants only.

Of the 50 control mothers who were prescribed an antidepressant, 25 (50 percent) were prescribed SSRIs only, nine (18 percent) were prescribed an SSRI in combination with another antidepressant and 16 (32 percent) were prescribed one or more non-SSRI antidepressants only.

Researchers determined mothers of children with ASD were twice as likely to have at least one antidepressant prescription in the year prior to delivery. When compared with women with no antidepressant prescription during the study period, those with a prescription for a SSRI were more than twice as likely to have a child later diagnosed with ASD. This association was not seen for the small group of women who were prescribed a non-SSRI antidepressant only.

Additionally, after adjustment for a history of depression during the year prior to delivery, SSRI exposure during the first trimester remained significantly associated with risk of ASD, as was a history of SSRI exposure at any point during the year prior to delivery.

“Although the number of children exposed prenatally to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in this population was low, results suggest that exposure, especially during the first trimester, may modestly increase the risk of ASD,” the authors conclude.

“We recommend that our findings be considered as preliminary and treated with caution, pending results from further studies designed to address the very complex question of whether prenatal exposure to SSRIs may be etiologically linked to later diagnoses of ASDs in offspring.”

Source: JAMA and Archives Journals