Study Suggests Antidepressants May Be Linked to Higher Risk of Autism, But Chance is Still Slim

Experts remain concerned over depression risks for pregnant women.

Across the entire group, 1,054 children were diagnosed with autism, or 0.72 percent.

They found that the children of women who took antidepressants during the second and/or third trimester were at an 87 percent higher risk to develop autism than those without exposure. Of the 2,532 children who fell into this category, 31 were diagnosed with autism (1.2 percent).

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, said pregnant women on SSRIs should not stop taking their medication without more study and information.

"The absolute risk is still low and the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor that it’s low," Wiznitzer said of the chance of a child developing autism after his or her mother took an SSRI.

Wiznitzer pointed out that this was just a single study and that women should not fear their medication if it's helping them with their depression.

"They need to be informed consumers and can make rational judgments about what’s best for them," Wiznitzer further explained.

King pointed out that other studies have found that depression and autism may share underlying risk factors and possible genetic links.

Pregnant women with untreated depression are at a risk for a variety of other complications, according to King, including prenatal stress that can reduce blood flow and increase risk of damaged tissue or preterm birth.

In one study mentioned by King, women on SSRIs had reduced risk for preterm births, cesarean section and late term births compared to women with psychiatric disorders who were not on medication.