Birth complications and autism

Do birth complications increase the risk of autism? Some previous studies have suggested a link, but more recent research has cast doubts upon this connection. Amongst research findings rejecting this link are those presented in a paper delivered to the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) 2015 Annual Pregnancy Meeting.

The cause or causes of autism are not yet fully known, although studies of twins suggest that there is a strong genetic component to the condition. Environmental factors are also thought to play a part and while a variety of factors have been considered, none have been conclusively implicated. However, it is likely that some environmental factors have an effect very early in the child’s life, hence the interest in what happens during birth.

This Utah-based study looked at children born from 1998 to 2006, comparing 2,547 children who had received a diagnosis of autism before 2012 with 166,238 children who were born without congenital anomalies or aneuploidy at 24 to 42 weeks of gestation. Information on induction and augmentation was gathered from birth certificates.

The study group had a prevalence of autism of one in 65, which is comparable to the overall prevalence rate in the USA. The ratio of male to female children in the study with that condition was also comparable to the national figure, namely three times as many males as females.

The researchers allowed for other factors which may have been relevant, such as socioeconomic status, maternal health, pregnancy-related events and birth cohort. Allowing for these other potential factors, they found that the incidence of autism was no greater in those births that involved induction or augmentation.

The study’s Dr Erin Clark acknowledged that there was no precise information given in these historical records about the techniques of induction or augmentation. Further research is required to confirm these results, based upon more detailed contemporary records of the birth procedures used.

A discussion of this study can be found in Medscape (free sign in required)

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