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Fetal Exposure to certain Asthma Drugs in the Womb linked to Autism Risk, Study Says

Update Date: Jan 06, 2016 11:31 AM EST

Babies who were exposed to certain asthma drugs while they were still in the womb have a slightly higher risk of autism, a new study is reporting.

For this study, the team headed by Nicole Gidaya of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, analyzed databases from Denmark. They compared 5,200 children who were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to 52,000 non-autistic children of the same age group.

The researchers found that nearly four percent of the children from the autism group had been exposed to a group of asthma drugs called beta-agonists. In the other group of children, less than three percent of them had been exposed to beta-agonists.

After controlling for variables such as parental age, birth complications, and asthma status in the mother, the researchers found that children who were exposed in the womb still had a 30 percent increased risk of developing autism in comparison to children who were not exposed. The risk was considered to be "modest."

The researchers noted that they did not differentiate between short-acting and long-acting beta-agonists. They also did not find a cause-and-effect relationship.

The researchers are not recommending pregnant women to stop taking their asthma medications, especially since untreated or uncontrolled asthma can lead to undesirable birth outcomes, such as an increased risk of being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.

"It's important for a woman taking these drugs to talk with her physician and make an individual decision based on her unique circumstances," Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development at Duke University, commented reported by Medical Xpress.

Dawson is also the author of an editorial that was published with this study.

The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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