Study finds No Increased Risk of Autism, ADHD with Prenatal Antidepressant Exposure

CADDAC National Director

Two large case-control studies from three Massachusetts health care systems has found no evidence that prenatal exposure to antidepressants increases the risk for autism or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Any increase of Autism or ADHD found in previous studies is thought to be due to the severity of the mother’s depression, which is a known risk factor, rather than the use of antidepressant medication.

These new finding should bring some reassurance to expectant mothers’ faced with a decision about taking antidepressant medication throughout their pregnancy.

The study looked at data form more than 1200 children with an autism related diagnosis and 1700 children with ADHD to control large groups of children with no neuropsychiatric diagnosis. The fact that both autism and ADHD incidence rates increased in children of women who were taking antidepressant medication or experiencing psychotherapy prior to becoming pregnant, indicates that the risk factor is actually the severity of the depression rather than use of antidepressants during pregnancy.

Dr. Perlis senior author of the report stated "While taking any medicine during pregnancy can be a difficult decision, we hope the results of our two papers - which now cover more than 2,500 children with autism and almost 4,000 with ADHD - will provide some reassurance to women concerned about getting treatment for depression or anxiety during pregnancy. While there are depression treatments that don't involve medication, for some patients they are not effective, available or preferred. We want women and the clinicians working with them to be as informed as possible when making this decision."

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