Taking antidepressants while pregnant linked to autism risk, but many scientists doubtful

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No one really knows why rates of autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), have roughly doubled over the past 10 years. Many researchers say the jump in numbers comes from greater public awareness of the condition, a neurodevelopmental syndrome characterized by altered social interaction, and from changing diagnostic criteria that are catching previously undetected cases. Others look to environmental influences, such as exposure to toxins.

Now, a new study is raising eyebrows in the psychiatry and neuroscience communities. It suggests that women who use antidepressants while pregnant are nearly twice as likely to bear children with ASD. Many epidemiologists and psychiatrists say the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, is flawed and will cause unnecessary panic.

The authors say that the findings suggest that pregnant women with mild to moderate—though not severe—depression should avoid antidepressants if possible. For mild-to-moderate depression, “exercise and psychotherapy work very well,” says perinatal epidemiologist Anick Bérard, who lead the study at the University of Montreal and also serves as a consultant for plaintiffs in litigations involving antidepressants and birth defects.

Some say that’s a misleading and potentially dangerous conclusion, given two factors: the relatively low incidence of ASD in the general population and the fact that maternal depression—which can lead to poor sleep and eating patterns—can lead to greater health risks for unborn children.

Read full, original post: Reality check: Taking antidepressants while pregnant unlikely to double autism risk in kids

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