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 because of the severity of the depression itself, rather than the medications, according to the findings based on a review of electronic medical records of mothers and their children who were patients in the Partners HealthCare system.
“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, published last Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, found 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 has received consulting fees from antidepressant manufacturers.