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SSRIs and Autism Spectrum Disorder


Several studies have found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children whose mothers took SSRIs during pregnancy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. These drugs may be recommended to a woman during pregnancy to treat antepartum depression, but may also be used by women to treat other forms of depression and mental health disorders. Popular drugs like Zoloft®, Paxil®, Prozac®, and Lexapro® have been linked to a wide range of birth defects, including heart defects and cleft lips and palates. However, these medications have been most closely associated with an increased rate of autism spectrum disorder. Women have begun filing claims against the manufacturers in the SSRI lawsuit. If you were prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy and your child has suffered from complications, please contact an attorney today to review your legal options.

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Many SSRI medications prescribed to mothers during pregnancy have been linked to an increased incidence of autism spectrum disorder.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD refers to a group of complex developmental disorders that affect the brain. The symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity of the condition, and may include difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Many children with ASD also suffer from physical issues, such as sleep or gastrointestinal disorders. Signs and symptoms are usually apparent by age two, and most children are diagnosed before they enter school or in their early school-age years.

Behaviors and Symptoms of Autism

There are two primary types of behaviors a child with autism may exhibit. These behaviors can be either restrictive and repetitive, or involve social interaction and communication.  

Restrictive and Repetitive Behaviors

Children with ASD often perform many repetitive or restrictive behaviors, including:

  • Repetitive movements or gestures
  • Obsessive interests with a single object or a part of an object
  • Developing specific routines or patterns and becomes upset at any deviations
  • Problems with coordination
  • Constant movement
  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or touch
  • Odd food preferences

Social Interaction and Communication Behaviors

Many ASD patients also struggle with various communication deficits, including:

  • Reduced eye contact and facial expressions
  • Unusual responses to others’ emotions
  • Struggle with typical back-and-forth conversations
  • Talk continuously about favorite topic with no regard for other people’s reactions or responses
  • Repetition of certain words or phrases
  • Tone of voice that is either monotone or sing-song-like
  • Difficulty understanding someone else’s point of view
  • Upset or confused by overly stimulating environments

Additionally, some children with ASD may also suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, or other neurological conditions, such as epilepsy.

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Risk Factors for Autism

Certain factors can increase a child’s risk of developing ASD, including:

  • Gender - Boys develop ASD at roughly four times the rate at which girls do.
  • Premature Birth - Children that are born before 26 weeks of gestation may be at a greater risk of developing ASD.
  • Family History - Families who have one child with ASD are at a higher risk for having another child with the disorder.
  • Age of Parents - There may be a correlation between older parents and an increased risk of ASD.
  • Other Conditions - Certain neurological and other medical conditions have been associated with an increased risk of autism, such as fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Tourette syndrome, and Rett syndrome.

Possible Causes of Autism

In general, autism is caused by abnormalities in the structure and/or function of the brain. Little is known about what causes differentiations. Because of the complexity of the disorder and the range in severity fo the symptoms, it is likely that ASD is caused by a variety of factors. Complications and medications taken during pregnancy may also contribute to the development of ASD.

Scientific Studies and FDA Warnings

Several studies have linked SSRI antidepressants, including Zoloft®, Paxil®, Prozac®, and Lexapro®, to autism spectrum disorder.

  • In a February 2016 issue of JAMA Pediatrics, an article was published that found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder, especially in boys, when SSRIs were taken in the second and/or third trimesters.
  • In 2014, a study published in the journal Pediatrics found an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder with SSRI exposure, especially in boys.
  • A 2013 article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported that antidepressant use (not exclusive to SSRIs) during pregnancy can increase the child’s risk of ASD.
  • In 2011, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that fetal exposure to SSRIs during the first trimester increased the risk for developing ASD.
  • In December 2011, the FDA issued a warning to inform doctors and patients that SSRI use during pregnancy increases the risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) of the newborn. The FDA also issued a black-box warning indicating SSRIs may cause an increase in suicidal thoughts.

Schedule a Complimentary Case Evaluation

If you were prescribed an SSRI antidepressant during pregnancy and your child has been diagnosed with autism or another birth defect, you may be able to take legal action against the drug manufacturers. Contact an experienced defective drug attorney in your area today to schedule a complimentary case evaluation and to discuss the legal options that are available to you.

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