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Is Prozac Linked to Autism?

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Boston, MAAmid concerns about Prozac side effects, specifically the link between Prozac and birth defects, comes news that medications such as Prozac could be linked to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. The news about this latest Prozac side effect could have pregnant women concerned over whether or not they should use the medication while pregnant.

A study published in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that there is a link between the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) just prior to or during pregnancy and an increased risk of an infant diagnosed with autism. According to the research, when a woman took an SSRI—a class of antidepressants that includes Prozac—during the 12 months prior to delivery, she had double the risk of delivering an infant with autism spectrum disorder.

When the SSRI was taken during the first trimester of pregnancy, the risk of autism spectrum disorder reportedly quadrupled.

Combine that with a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (published online 04/25/11), which found that the use of prescription drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy increased by more than 60 percent over the past 30 or so years, and the need for a firm understanding of prescription drug use during pregnancy becomes clear. Unfortunately, there is still not a lot of data on many medications and their effect on unborn babies. Researchers in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that there is widespread and growing use of medications by pregnant women, which reinforces the need to study the risks to the fetus.

Previous studies have suggested a link between the use of SSRI medications and a risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), a potentially fatal condition that results in the baby's blood not being properly oxygenated when it circulates throughout the body.

Meanwhile, a study published in the July 2011 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that the use of fluoxetine (the generic name for Proxac) during the first trimester was associated with an increased risk of isolated ventricular septal defects.

Despite these reported risks, Prozac is classified by the FDA as Pregnancy Category C, indicating that although animal studies have indicated a potential risk to the fetus, studies in humans have not confirmed that the risk of the medication is greater than the risk of discontinuing treatment.

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