Medication use and pregnancy

Two studies suggest that certain medications used during pregnancy may increase the risk of autism in offspring. In the first, which looked at antidepressants in pregnancy, researchers from Sweden reviewed the records of 4429 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as well as 43,000 age- and sex-matched controls. A history of maternal, but not paternal, depression was associated with an increased risk of ASD and the association was confined to women reporting antidepressant use during pregnancy (adjusted odds ratio 3.34; 95% CI, 1.50-7.47; P = 0.003). This association was irrespective of whether serotonin reuptake inhibitors or non-selective monoamine reuptake inhibitors (tricyclic antidepressants) were used. The association was confined to autism without intellectual disability. Still, the use of antidepressants accounted for only 0.6% of cases of ASD during the study, so the drugs were "unlikely to have contributed significantly towards the dramatic increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders" (BMJ 2013;346:f2059). In the other study, researchers from Denmark reviewed the records of children exposed in utero to valproate (used to treat seizures and other neuropsychological disorders in mothers). Of more than 655,000 children born between 1996 and 2006, 5437 identified with ASD, including 2067 with childhood autism. The overall risk of autism in all children was 1.53%, but of the 508 children exposed to valproate, the absolute risk was 4.42% (95% CI, 2.59-7.46%) for ASD and 2.50% (95%CI, 1.30-4.81%) for childhood autism (adjusted hazard ratio, 5.2). The risk was similar regardless of the indication for use of valproate in the mother. These findings suggest that maternal use of valproate significantly increases the risk for ASD and childhood autism in offspring. The authors suggest that a risk-benefit analysis should be considered for women on valproate in their childbearing years (JAMA 2013;309:1696-1703).