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SSRI Birth Defects Likely Include Autism

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Oakland, CAWhile antidepressants such as Zoloft and Prozac have previously been linked to a range of side effects, new research indicates that SSRI birth defects include an increased risk of complications like autism.

Health Magazine reports that a new study, which was led by researchers at Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, suggests such selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) could be particularly problematic when taken during the first trimester of pregnancy. In these instances, researchers discovered that children were nearly four times as likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as compared to infants who had not been exposed prenatally.

While the research seems to coalesce with prior studies linking SSRIs to birth defects such as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), the study authors cautioned that more examinations need to occur, particularly as fewer than 300 children were looked at in the latest study.

"This is the first study of its kind to look at the association, and the findings have to be interpreted with a lot of caution," said lead author Dr. Lisa Croen, the director of autism research at Kaiser Permanente. "We can't detect causality from one study."

Croen added that while birth defects related to SSRIs are a major health issue, the fact remains that depression, when untreated during pregnancy, carries its own substantial risks, including growth problems and potential preterm births.

"We don't want people to rush off and stop taking antidepressants if they're on them," Croen explained. "They really need to talk to their doctors about the risk-benefit ratio."

In the study, the researchers utilized Kaiser Premanente's patient database, specifically 298 children with an ASD born between 1995 and the middle of 1999, grouping them with more than 1,500 children born at the same hospitals around the same time without autism.

The authors discovered that 6.7 percent of the children with an ASD were exposed to SSRIs in the womb, compared to 3.3 percent of the control group. After taking into account potential confounding factors, the researchers said that exposure to SSRIs in the womb increased the potential for an ASD diagnosis 2.2-fold, with that number stretching to 3.8-fold in children exposed during the first trimester, according to the news source.

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, researchers discovered that infants whose mothers had taken an SSRI after 20 weeks' gestation were six times more likely to develop PPHN than those who had not been exposed to the medications throughout the pregnancy, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

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