A recent study revealed that boys with autism were three times more likely to have been exposed to antidepressants or SSRIs in utero. SSRIs are a class of antidepressants used to treat depression, panic disorders, anxiety disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and other psychological conditions. The efficacy of SSRIs has come under question with some studies showing that SSRIs are no more effective for treatment for depression than a placebo or no treatment. SSRIs include the drugs Paxil, Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa and Zoloft.
The study was conducted at Johns Hopkins and showed that prenatal SSRI exposure was almost three times as likely in boys with autism spectrum disorder. SSRIs cross the placenta and increase levels of hormone serotonin in the fetus. It is estimated that approximately one in three children with autism have higher than normal serotonin levels.
This is not the first study linking SSRIs to autism. Another study was conducted in 2011 and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry and found that nearly 300 children with autism spectrum disorders found double the risk of autism.
The authors of the study also found that the developmental delays can also be caused by the use of SSRIs during pregnancy. The rates were highest among children who were exposed to SSRIs during the third trimester. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism.
Studies have long found associations between SSRIs and the risk of birth defects. A New England Journal of Medicine study in 2007 reported that SSRIs increased the risk of children developing heart defects and int estinal conditions. In 2010, GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Paxil paid more than $1 billion to resolve lawsuits related to birth defect injuries.