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Prenatal antidepressants may be linked to autism, hyperactivity

A growing body of evidence is pointing to the possibility that antidepressant use in pregnant women may be linked to conditions like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The drugs may also be linked to premature birth, heart defects, clubfoot and pulmonary hypertension, according to an article in the New York Times.

Many physicians have historically been of the mindset that a clinically depressed mother would be more harmful to a baby than any effects resulting from her antidepressant use. But with evidence growing that these drugs could indeed do harm when taken prenatally, physicians may increasingly face litigation if they don’t warn patients of the potential effects of antidepressant use on a growing fetus.

The antidepressants in question are of a drug class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and they work by keeping a key neurotransmitter circulating in the brain and other areas of the body. But like other drugs, the neurotransmitter (serotonin), a naturally occurring chemical, can also pass through the placental membrane and affect the growing fetus. A woman or couple not made aware of these risks would not have a chance to potentially prevent the effects of antidepressant use from causing damage to the growing fetus.

Still, the evidence linking conditions like autism and ADHD to maternal antidepressant use is not incontrovertible. Establishing a link between antidepressant use and adverse health outcomes doesn’t even prove that one thing caused the other — only that they are linked somehow, in a way that is not yet known.

If you have questions about a child who was born with a condition you suspect might have resulted from inadequate prenatal care, or a failure to disclose certain risks, it doesn’t hurt to speak with a medical malpractice lawyer who can advise you of your rights and give you perspective about whether you may have a viable case.