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Asthma Medications During Pregnancy Linked to Increased Autism Risk

Study finds concerning link between asthma meds and the risk for autism diagnosis.

pregnant woman with asthma inhaler BSIP/Getty Images
There is mounting evidence that any medication taken during pregnancy can carry some risk for adversely affecting the health of the growing fetus. Consider new research out of Drexel University, which has found an association between taking an anti-asthma drug while pregnant and a child's risk of developing autism.

Researchers looked at birth records from Denmark and determined women who were taking a B2AR agonist, such as salmetereol and formoterol, for asthma while pregnant had a 30 percent higher risk for having an autistic child. It didn't seem to matter at what point during the pregnancy the drug was taken, but taking it throughout the entire pregnancy elevated the risk. That's because the drug can cross the placenta and may affect a fetus's developing neurons.

The study, which is called "In Utero Exposure to íŸ-2-Andregenic Receptor Agonist Drugs and Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders," was published in the February issue of Pediatrics. It's worth noting researchers were not able to determine an autism diagnosis was a direct result of taking an asthma medication during pregnancy in most cases. Researchers also want pregnant women to understand halting their use of B2AR drugs is not advisable, as uncontrolled asthma can lead to bad birth outcomes, not to mention risks for the mother.

Meanwhile, lead researcher Nicole Gidaya, Ph.D., says her findings should encourage the study of other prescription drugs during pregnancy, a field she believes is understudied. "I would hope my research would encourage more researchers to explore prescription drug use as a potential autism spectrum disorder risk factor," she says.

The takeaway: If you are taking any medication during pregnancy, talk to your doctor to evaluate the benefits and risks for you and your baby.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.