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Inducing Labor Could be Tied to Autism

Update Date: Aug 13, 2013 11:19 AM EDT

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a behavioral disorder that is characterized by the lack of social interaction abilities and oftentimes, communication, is a disorder that needs to be treated as soon as possible. People with autism are generally diagnosed at around three to four-years-old, which may appear to be early. However, since autism treatment is usually focused on behavioral learning, teaching children at the earliest age possible to modify their behaviors is extremely important. Due to the early onset of the disorder, researchers have tried to find ways of diagnosing autism even earlier so that they could help provide better treatment options. In a new study, researchers reported that inducing labor could be tied to autism.

For this study, Simon Gregory from Duke Medicine in Durham, NC and colleagues looked into the effects of inducing or augmenting labor. Doctors will induce labor by utilizing drugs when the pregnancy is around one to two weeks past the estimated due date. Augmenting labor is the process of speeding up labor and doctors will use drugs to help quicken a pregnant woman's contractions. The research team reviewed information regarding the births that took place between 1990 and 1998 in North Carolina. They co-examined that information with education data collected from 1997 to 1998 and 2007 to 2008.

In the data set, there were a total of 911,000 births. 678,000 of them were successfully linked to their education information. Of this number, 4,285 boys and 1,393 girls were diagnosed with autism. In the male group with autism, the researchers calculated that 14 percent of them were delivered after doctors had to induce labor while 16 percent of them were born due to augmentation. The statistics for boys without autism but were born from induction or augmentation were 13 percent and 14 percent respectively.

"At this stage we're assuming it's a genuine biological phenomenon," Gregory said according to Reuters.

The researchers believe that the risk of autism could be tied to the fact that the drugs used to induce or augment pregnancy might cross from the mother's placenta to the unborn child. The team estimated that if this explanation was true, by avoiding induction or augmentation, about two in every 1,000 autism cases could be potentially prevented. Despite this finding, the researchers stated they only found an association. They cannot conclude that induction or augmentation is responsible for autism.

"Because we haven't found this direct link we're not saying this should change standard clinical practices," Gregory said.

"Induction is extraordinarily common," Dr. Susan Hyman said. Hyman is an autism specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York and was not a part of the study. "Discuss that with your healthcare provider if you're worried about your child. Although the statistics identify an association the vast majority of children are fine and many of their lives might have been saved [by induction]."

The study was published in JAMA Pediatrics

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