A controversial study has suggested that taking antidepressants during pregnancy can have a serious impact on incidences of autism.
Researchers tracked just under 150,000 pregnancies and found the use of antidepressants in the second and / or third trimester of pregnancy was linked to an almost doubled risk of a child developing ASD.
The Daily Telegraph proclaimed that the study proved that “taking antidepressants during pregnancy almost doubles the risk of children developing autism”.
Yet although the study was well designed and its findings are interesting, it is something of a stretch to suggest that it proves that drugs were causing ASD.
The study was carried out by researchers from universities in Canada, and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Quebec Training Network in Perinatal Research.
It was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
And it has certainly generated headlines in the press, with the NHS acknowledging that the reporting of the study was both accurate and responsible.
Yet health experts have suggested that the press has been guilty of jumping to hasty conclusions.
The study’s authors explain that the association between the use of antidepressants during pregnancy and the risk of ASD in childhood is controversial, partly because the causes of ASD itself are unclear.
Thus, the NHS assertst that “on this case, antidepressant use isn’t the cause of the link, it’s merely a symptom of something else.”
Researchers conducting the study analysed the Quebec Pregnancy/Children Cohort, which included data on all pregnancies and children in Quebec from January 1 1998 to December 31 2009.
Ultimately, they acquired a sample of 145,456 full-term single babies born to mothers covered by medical insurance.
It is suggested that the sample size was insufficient to draw broad conclusions.
Additionally, it is important to note that genetic factors could have had a massive influence over the results of this study.
Underlying genetics may predispose a mother to depression and use of antidepressants, and make it more likely for the infant to develop ASD.
It has also been suggested that mothers prescribed antidepressants during the second and third trimester of pregnancy may be more vulnerable to conceiving a child with ASD for reasons that are not yet fully understood.
The study certainly establishes an interesting and significant correlation, but causality cannot be asserted at this time.
There are around 700,000 people in the UK with autism, and it is often suggested that autism touches the lives of 2.8 million people in the UK every day; over 4 per cent of the UK population.