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January 29, 2016

Autism risk linked to asthma drugs taken during pregnancy: Drexel study

Lead researcher hopes findings prompt more studies about prescription drug use among expecting mothers

Drexel University researchers say they have found a link between women who have taken certain asthma medications while pregnant and an elevated risk of their children developing autism.

The study examined birth records from Denmark between 1997 and 2007, and attributed the increased risk specifically to B2AR drugs. The study found that the children of women who took these types of asthma medications were "30 percent more likely to be eventually diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Nicole Gidaya, a doctoral alum of Drexel’s Dornsife School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said the effects of prescription medications taken by pregnant women on their babies is an understudied area. Gidaya said:

"I would hope my research would encourage more researchers to explore prescription drug use as a potential autism spectrum disorder risk factor.” 
B2AR agonist medications help asthma sufferers by relaxing the bronchial passages in the lungs. The study's researchers found the drugs can cross the placenta and reach the fetus, "which may have an effect on its developing neurons."

Another co-author Craig Newschaffer – a professor in Drexel's Dornsife School of Public Health, the director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute – said this is in line with other recent findings about prescription medications and pregnancy.

“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.”

The study was published in the February issue of Pediatrics. Also, read more here.

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