A new study appears to corroborate previous claims that the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy could lead to autism in children. The study, performed by researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the University of California San Francisco, examined the use of SSRIs in pregnant rats and the resulting effects on their children. This research concluded that the use of SSRIs during developmental stages of pregnancy leads to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressants including the popular drugs Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Prozac, and Celexa.
A pregnant mother may do more harm to her baby through untreated depression than by taking prescribed SSRIs.
In the study, rats exposed to SSRIs in the uterus showed less interest in playing with toys when young, interest in interacting socially with other rats when older, and abnormal reactions due to changes in their environment. There were other indicators as well, including a prevalence in these symptoms in males over females, neurological abnormalities, and delayed development of the auditory cortex. Dr. Rick C.S. Lin, the principal investigator in the study, said that "We saw behaviors in the treated rats and neurological problems that indicate their brains are not properly conducting and processing information. However, based on this study alone it would be premature to conclude that a pregnant mother should stop taking SSRIs. A pregnant mother may do more harm to her baby through untreated depression than by taking prescribed SSRIs. This study is a starting point and a lot more research needs to be done."
Research was released over the summer that used a number of case children and came up with the same conclusion. The previous study, done by the Autism Research Center at Kaiser Permanente and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry medical journal, analyzed a total of 298 case children with ASD (and their mothers) and 1507 randomly selected control children (and their mothers). Prenatal exposure to antidepressant medications was reported for 20 case children (6.7%) and 50 control children (3.3%). A quick analysis of the data implies that there is a twofold increased risk of ASD associated with SSRI use by the mother during pregnancy, and up to a fourfold increased risk when used during the first trimester.
SSRIs can have many positive effects on the mental state of a patient, but these studies exemplify the considerable risks associated with their use, especially when pregnant. If you use or are considering using these popular antidepressants, first discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor. If you or a loved one has birthed a child with autism or a birth defect after taking an SSRI during pregnancy, contact a knowledgeable SSRI birth defect attorney to see if it is possible for you to receive compensation through a lawsuit.