Women who take a common type of antidepressant during pregnancy are not more likely to have a child with autism, according to a new study from Denmark.
But children did have a higher than usual risk when their mothers took the drugs - known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) - for depression or anxiety before becoming pregnant.
That suggests a possible link between a mother's preexisting mental health issues and the developmental disorder that hinders social and communication skills.
"Our interpretation is that women with indications for SSRI use differ from women who do not use SSRIs because of these indications (depression, anxiety), and some of these differences are somehow related to an increased risk of having children who develop autism," Dr. Anders Hviid said. He led the study at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.
"Whether these differences are genetic, social or something completely different is speculation at this point," Hviid said.
The findings, combined with a separate analysis of the same database published last month in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, suggest people looking for a link between autism and SSRIs need to look elsewhere, Dr. Mark Zylka said.
Zylka, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, has studied autism but was not involved in the analyses.
"There's been a big question in the literature about whether these drugs affect brain development in any way and cause autism," he told Reuters Health. That's important because of how many people take antidepressants, including pregnant women.
Image: Pregnant woman taking pill, via Shutterstock