From 1994 to 2005, the number of children in the United States taking part in special education programs for autism increased from 22,664 to 193,637. From 1996 to 2005, the number of Americans taking antidepressants nearly doubled to the point where ten percent of the population had a prescription for at least one antidepressant.
It’s difficult not to see a relationship between these two statistics. In fact, a new study shows a direct correlation between pregnant women who take antidepressantsâ€”specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft and Paxilâ€”and then give birth to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Maternal Exposure to SSRI Antidepressants and Autism Risk?
Kaiser Permanente performed a study published in July, 2011, which produced some alarming results. They suggested that exposure to SSRIs during the first trimester of pregnancy can increase the risk of the child developing ASD. It means that now, in addition to the regular risk of Zoloft and Paxil side effects, pregnant women must now make a difficult choiceâ€”continue to treat their depression, or stop taking antidepressants in order to protect their unborn children.
Vaccines and Autism Risk?
This study is especially important because the last several years have seen much confusion over the true cause of autism. Many parents have been led to believe that immunizing their child greatly increased the risk of their children developing ASD. This campaign gained a lot of exposure thanks to celebrity Jenny McCarthy, who maintained that her son developed ASD after he was vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, as all children are around the age of one. McCarthy’s claims were given a boost when a British doctor published a study confirming that ASD was linked to childhood vaccinations.
These sorts of claims led to another kind of health crisis. Some states began to see an outbreak of measles because parents were refusing to get their children vaccinated. This was cause for great concern because the measles vaccination is only 95% effective, meaning that even kids who had received the immunization were at risk, and children too young to be vaccinated were at even greater risk.
MMR Vaccine and Autism Spectrum Disorder?
This crisis may begin to dissipate now that the British study claiming a link between ASD and the MMR vaccine has been discredited, and the doctor has been found to have behaved unethically. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has maintained that vaccines given to children are safe, and have no connection to ASD.
While this is good news, the new study that actually shows a connection between SSRIs and ASD is creating a new cause for alarm.
“Although the number of children exposed prenatally to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in this population was low, results suggest that exposure, especially during the first trimester, may modestly increase the risk of ASD. The potential risk associated with exposure must be balanced with the risk to the mother or fetus of untreated mental health disorders.Further studies are needed to replicate and extend these findings.”
Archives of General Psychiatry
In order for SSRIs to be effective, they must be taken regularly. It’s usually some time before the patient begins to see a positive change from the drugs because they must build up in the body to have the desired effect. Once someone is on a regular regimen of SSRIs, they cannot simply stop taking them without posing a risk to their mentalâ€”and physicalâ€”health. Patients must be slowly weaned off these medications to prevent detrimental effects or illness.
But if there’s a risk to their fetus, it’s only natural that a woman would want to stop taking SSRIs immediately upon discovering she’s pregnant. How can a woman be properly taken off this type of medication without continuing to put her child at risk of developing autism?
Talk to Your Doctor
It’s a difficult question, and one that requires further study. If you’re taking SSRIs and find out you’re pregnant, talk to your doctor immediately to pursue the best course of action for you and your baby. And if you take any SSRIs such as Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, etc., and plan to become pregnant, discuss your plans with your doctor now so that she can help you find a possible alternative treatment for your condition during your pregnancy.
No one wants to put their baby at risk. But don’t risk your own health in the process, either. Keep your doctor informed, follow his advice, but also do your own research to educate yourself. The more involved you are with your care, and that of your baby, the greater the probability that your child will be born healthy.