The connection between medications used to treat depression and autism in children has shown up in earlier research, but investigators have been unsure whether the link is down to pre-existing illness, the antidepressants, or some other mix of factors.
Seeking a clearer picture, scientists led by Dheeraj Rai at the University of Bristol in western England examined medical records for a quarter of a million individuals aged four to 17 living in Sweden from 2001 to 2011.
Nearly 5,400 of them were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
For the purposes of the study, published in the medical journal BMJ, mothers were divided into three groups.
They comprised those who did not take any antidepressants and showed no signs of mental illness; those who took antidepressants during pregnancy; and mothers with psychiatric disorders who did not take such drugs while pregnant.
Just over four percent of the children exposed to mood-enhancing medications were diagnosed with autism, while just under three percent of children not exposed to antidepressants — and whose mothers had a history of psychiatric troubles — were found to be on the spectrum.
The new investigation was not designed to investigate the cause for any link between antidepressants and the disorder.
But even if a cause one day emerges, “the absolute risk of autism was small, so these results should not be considered alarming,” the authors said in a statement.
In April, two studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) also suggested the risk may be lower than previously believed.
Other scientists not involved in the study praised the methodology.
“The risk for ASD is very small,” said Michael Craig, a senior lecturer in reproductive and developmental psychiatry at King’s College London.
“However, these results cannot be ignored” and should be followed up, he said.
Autism is a complex disorder of brain development characterised, to varying degrees, by troubled social interactions, difficulty in communicating and repetitive actions or speech. It affects about one in 100 people.
For Ian Jones, the director of the National Centre for Mental Health at Cardiff University, “it is possible that the higher risk of autism is due to the medication, but it may also be due to the effect of the mood disorder for which the medication has been prescribed.”
Genetic factors linking mood disorders and autism may also be at play, he added.
Ultimately, it is a matter of measuring pros and cons of treatment, said Michael Bloomfield, a clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London.
“As is the case with every medicine, mothers and doctors will need to continue to weigh up the potential risks and benefits of taking antidepressants during pregnancy.”
Depression in pregnancy and following childbirth is common, and should be taken seriously, doctors say. DM
Watch Pauli van Wyk’s Cat Play The Piano Here!
No, not really. But now that we have your attention, we wanted to tell you a little bit about what happened at SARS.
Tom Moyane and his cronies bequeathed South Africa with a R48-billion tax shortfall, as of February 2018. It's the only thing that grew under Moyane's tenure... the year before, the hole had been R30.7-billion. And to fund those shortfalls, you know who has to cough up? You - the South African taxpayer.
It was the sterling work of a team of investigative journalists, Scorpio’s Pauli van Wyk and Marianne Thamm along with our great friends at amaBhungane, that caused the SARS capturers to be finally flushed out of the system. Moyane, Makwakwa… the lot of them... gone.
But our job is not yet done. We need more readers to become Maverick Insiders, the friends who will help ensure that many more investigations will come. Contributions go directly towards growing our editorial team and ensuring that Daily Maverick and Scorpio have a sustainable future. We can’t rely on advertising and don't want to restrict access to only those who can afford a paywall subscription. Membership is about more than just contributing financially – it is about how we Defend Truth, together.
So, if you feel so inclined, and would like a way to support the cause, please join our community of Maverick Insiders.... you could view it as the opposite of a sin tax. And if you are already Maverick Insider, tell your mother, call a friend, whisper to your loved one, shout at your boss, write to a stranger, announce it on your social network. The battle for the future of South Africa is on, and you can be part of it.
Billionaire oil tycoon J Paul Getty had a pay phone in his home so he wouldn't have to pay for guests' calls.