Anti-asthma Drug Increases Autism Risk When Taken During Pregnancy: Study

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Jan 27, 2016 04:49 AM EST

SYDNEY, NSW - JUNE 07: A pregnant woman holds her stomach June 7, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. Australia is currently enjoying a baby boom, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics registering a 2.4% increase in births from 2004 to 2005, which represents the highest number of births since 1992. The Australian Federal Government has been encouraging people to have more babies, with financial incentives and the slogan by treasurer Peter Costello to 'have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country'. The Federal Government has identified falling fertility rates and the ageing population as long-term problems for Australia's growth and prosperity. (Photo : Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

A new study suggested that taking anti-asthma drugs while pregnant increases the baby's risk to autism.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is a reminder to women with asthma, who are planning to get pregnant or to already pregnant women with asthma, to be careful with their medication.

"This study adds to a body of recent research suggesting that medications used for certain common health conditions like asthma, when taken in pregnancy, may influence a newborn's neurodevelopment," said Dr. Craig Newschaffer, a professor at the Drexel University in a press release.

EurekAlert! reported that the researchers examined the records from Denmark's health and population registers for children born between 1997 and 2007. They found out that children whose mothers took ß-2-andrenergic receptor (B2AR) agonist drugs during pregnancy were 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

All children in the study were tied from mothers who resided in Denmark for at least a year. The case group (children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder) involved 5,200 children while there were 52,000 children in the control group (children who were not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder), UPI reported.

In particular, 3.7 percent of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder had mothers who took the ß-2-andrenergic receptor (B2AR) agonist drugs when they were pregnant. Of children who were not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, only 2.9 percent were born from mothers who took the same medication.

There was no difference in effect whether B2ARs is used in the first, second or third trimester. An increased risk to autism was observed when the drugs were used at any point during pregnancy.

The new study uncovered the potential risks posed by pre-natal exposure to the drugs. Uncontrolled asthma during pregnancy "has been associated with poor birth outcomes," the researcher noted. However, abstaining from the use of B2AR drugs may not also be the perfect solution.

"A challenge here is that the effects of the underlying health conditions, themselves, can also influence developmental outcomes," Newschaffer said. "Newly pregnant women taking medication for asthma or other conditions need to work closely with their health care provider to weigh the benefits of continuing medication use against possible risks."

The researchers are also calling everyone to take caution not only with asthma drug but other drugs as well.

"Since the teratogenic [an agent which could cause development issues in a fetus] potential of most drugs with respect to neurodevelopmental outcomes is generally understudied, I would hope my research would encourage more researchers to explore prescription drug use as a potential autism spectrum disorder risk factor," said Dr. Nicole Gidaya, a researcher at Drexel University.

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