Does Prenatal Exposure of Asthma Drugs increase risk of Autism?

There is evidence of some impact. It’s not uncommon for women to undergo asthma treatment while carrying a child, and certain asthma drugs slightly elevate the risk of giving birth to a child with Autism. A new online study (published in Pediatrics, Jan. 6, 2016) connects Autism risk to prenatal beta-agonist exposure.

autism asthma drugs

The medications that are inhaled could be albuterol or salmeterol or formoterol, but since the study can’t establish the cause/effect relationship, asthma treatment should not simply be abandoned during pregnancy.

Studies on beta-agonists continue. They come in both long- and short-term treatments; the former to prevent attacks, and the latter to treat attacks. Their effects were about the same and points in a new direction for the research on genetic vulnerability and environmental exposure, which are growing in number every day.

Words from the eminent:

Nicole Gidaya, the lead researcher of Drexel University in Philadelphia, stated that uncontrolled asthma results mostly in poor birth outcomes. The chances for preterm birth, abnormally low birth weight, and neonatal intensive care go up. And all these are factors that increase the risk for autism. Currently, Autism affects roughly one in every 68 children in the U.S.

Her statement was backed by Geraldine Dawson from Duke University, Durham, N.C. She’s the director for Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development.

Gidaya and her team collected information concerning 5,200 children from the Danish national database who were diagnosed with ASD. Among them, less than 4 percent received a beta-agonist exposure. The researchers ran a comparison between this group and another 5,200 children who are free from ASD or any other disorder, where less than 3 percent were prenatally exposed to beta-agonists. The comparisons included factors like mothers’ asthma, age, and birth-related complications and it was shown that mothers exposed to beta-agonists are 30 percent more likely to give birth to babies with spectrum conditions.

Does the number sound big? In reality, it’s actually modest, since factors like exposure to pollutants (Read Relationship between Autism and Toxic Body Burden) were not accounted for. Only more research is going to confirm the deeper links between autism and beta-agonists. If these drugs are proven to bring sure-fire risks, it might be helpful to study how biology makes use of them. That’s the way to gain a better understanding of autism.

Taking precautions:

The question is being weighed between the potential risks and benefits of beta-agonist medications on the developing foetus during pregnancy. A pregnant woman must take these drugs only if allowed by her physician. It must be an individual decision that depends on unique circumstances.

Other factors:

Birth complications resulting in oxygen deprivation for the brain is a known cause behind autism; so are prenatal exposures to infections, air pollution, and medications. Apart from the asthma-treating drugs, there are the anti-seizure/ anticonvulsant drugs with valproic acid. In pregnant lab rats, the drugs have been seen to hamper nerve cell development in foetuses.

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