Antidepressant use in early pregnancy does not increase risk of autism

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Serotonergic antidepressant exposure in early pregnancy does not increase the risk of autism, according to a new large-scale analysis published in JAMA this week.

The data from more than 1.5 million children showed no increased risk for autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or reduced foetal growth among offspring exposed to serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) in the first trimester, after controlling for other factors. There was a 1.3-times higher risk of premature birth for exposed versus unexposed offspring.

Previous studies have suggested in-utero exposure to elevated serotonin levels could result in autism, but these studies were limited in their ability to account for potential confounders.

"To our knowledge, this is one of the strongest studies to show that exposure to antidepressants during early pregnancy is not associated with autism, ADHD or poor foetal growth when taking into account the factors that lead to medication use in the first place," said senior author, Brian D'Onofrio.

"Balancing the risks and benefits of using antidepressants during pregnancy is an extremely difficult decision that every woman should make in consultation with her doctor," he said. "However, this study suggests use of these medications while pregnant may be safer than previously thought."