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Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication and social skills, is estimated to affect about one in 88 children in the United States.
Previous research has suggested that women who take antidepressants during pregnancy are up to five times more likely to have children with autism.
This study focused on antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine). Researchers followed more than 600,000 Danish children born between 1996 and 2006.
Initial results showed an almost 2 percent risk of having a child with autism for pregnant women who took SSRIs during their pregnancy, compared with 1.5 percent for those who did not.
However, after analyzing mental health diagnoses among the children's siblings and parents, the researchers concluded that the risk of autism associated with SSRIs was minimal. The finding was published recently in the journal Clinical Epidemiology.
"More and more women are given antidepressant medication while they are pregnant. And an increasing number of children are diagnosed with autism. This has given rise to concern over a possible connection," study author Jakob Christensen, a researcher at Aarhus University and staff specialist at Aarhus University Hospital, said in a university news release.
However, he said, "In contrast to other, smaller studies, our survey cannot demonstrate that the risk of having a child with autism is increased by taking antidepressant medication during pregnancy."
The researchers noted that there may be other risks associated with taking antidepressants during pregnancy, and women should talk to their doctor if they are taking any type of medication and are thinking about becoming pregnant.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Aarhus University, news release, Nov. 22, 2013