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Having A Fever During Pregnancy May Increase Chances Of Autism

Update Date: Jun 22, 2017 12:14 PM EDT

As if being pregnant wasn't stressful enough, new research suggests that having a fever during pregnancy may increase the risk for autism in a child.

Researchers from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health studied 95,754 Norwegian children born between 1999 and 2009. They found 583 cases of autism spectrum disorder, a mental condition characterized by difficulty in forming relationships and communicating with others.

The team also found that the mothers of 15,701 of the children -- 16 percent of the group -- reported having one or more fevers during their pregnancy.

"We had maternal reports of fever in four-week intervals throughout the entire pregnancy and we were able to link these data to the autism data we had collected through various methods and also through a patient registry," Columbia's Dr. Mady Hornig said.

"We were interested in trying to understand the role of fever because of prior reports with respect to fever, but there were not many," Hornig continued. "And there had also been many suggestions over the years that various types of infections in mothers during pregnancy had been associated with autism outcomes."

According to the study, women who experienced one to two fevers during pregnancy were 1.3 times more likely to have a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, while mothers who had three or more fevers almost doubled the risk.

Dr. Hornig's team also researched the different medications the mothers took to reduce fever -- ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol). According to Hornig, more than 50 percent of U.S. women take acetaminophen during pregnancy.

While acetaminophen didn't "mitigate" the risk for autism, mothers who took ibuprofen were not faced with an autism diagnosis.

"We don't want to be alarmist, but certainly we want to know the best way to manage fever should it occur," Dr. Hornig said.

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