Scary studies linking antidepressant use during pregnancy with an increased autism risk in babies may have scared some pregnant women off of the medications, but a new Massachusetts General Hospital study provides some comforting news. The heightened autism risk associated with antidepressant use is likely due to the severity of the depression itself, rather than the medications.
“Women with a major depressive disorder need to be reassured that continuing these drugs during pregnancy won’t expose their fetus to an increased risk of autism,” said study co-author Dr. Roy Perlis, director of the center for experimental drugs and diagnostics at Massachusetts General Hospital.
But the study did find an alarming 80 percent increased risk in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that was associated with a child’s exposure to antidepressants in the womb. Perlis emphasized that this was a “preliminary finding” that needed to be replicated in future studies.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, but Perlis and several study co-authors disclosed that they received consulting fees from pharmaceutical companies that make antidepressants.
Conducting a clinical trial of antidepressant use during pregnancy — where women are randomly assigned to take the medications or placebos — wouldn’t be ethical, so researchers are left to cull through medical records to try to determine whether a mother’s mental illness or medication use during pregnancy may have played a role in her child’s subsequent development of autism or ADHD.
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