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Review
, 182, 132-7

Prenatal Antidepressant Exposure and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children. Are We Looking at the Fall of Gods?

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Review

Prenatal Antidepressant Exposure and the Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children. Are We Looking at the Fall of Gods?

Salvatore Gentile. J Affect Disord.

Abstract

Recent information suggests that antenatal exposure to psychotropics may impair child neurodevelopment. Thus, aim of this review is to examine systematically available literature investigating potential associations between prenatal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

Methods: Medical literature published in English since 1988 identified using MEDLINE/PubMed, EMBASE, SCOPUS, and The Cochrane Library. Search terms: antidepressants, autism (spectrum disorders), childhood, children, neurodevelopment, pregnancy, SSRIs. Searches were updated until March 5, 2015.

Results: Six out of eight reviewed articles confirm an association between antenatal SSRI exposure and an increased risk of ASDs in children. However, the epidemiologic evidence on the link between prenatal SSRI exposure and ASD risk must still be cautiously interpreted, because of potential biases of analyzed research.

Limitations: Main limitations of reviewed studies include: lack of directly validated clinical evaluation, impossibility to identify women who really took the prescribed medications during pregnancy, no assessment of severity and course of symptoms in relation to the pregnancy, lack of information about unhealthy prenatal lifestyle behaviors.

Conclusions: Despite such limitations, available data show that some signal exists suggesting that antenatal exposure to SSRIs may increase the risk of ASDs. Thus, there is an urgent need for further, large, well-designed research finalized to definitively assess the existence and the magnitude of this severe risk, thus confirming or denying that we are truly looking at "the fall of Gods", since for many years SSRIs have been considered the first-choice agents for treating antenatal depression (Gentile, 2014; Gentile, 2011a; Gentile, 2005).

Keywords: Antidepressants; Autism spectrum disorders; Neurodevelopment; Pregnancy; SSRIs; Safety.

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