Friday 11 January 2019

"Are women with autism at an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes?"

The paper by Heléne Sundelin and colleagues [1] provides the blogging fodder today, and research pertinent to the question: "Are women with autism at an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes?" The short answer to the question is yes: "Maternal autism is associated with preterm birth, likely due to an increased frequency of medically indicated preterm births, but also with other adverse pregnancy outcomes, suggesting a need for extra surveillance during prenatal care."

It was refreshing to read the results from Sundelin et al (a research group who are no strangers to autism research) because this was a study devoted to looking at women with autism / autistic women and their pregnancy outcomes. It was distinct from other research on maternal pregnancy outcomes and offspring autism more traditionally seen in the peer-reviewed research literature and covered on this blog (see here and see here for examples).

The source material for the Sundelin study was the Swedish Medical Birth Registry (yes, one of those fantastic Scandinavian population registries again) and records of "2,198 births to 1,382 women with autism and 877,742 births to 503,846 women never diagnosed with autism." When comparing the groups across various different measures including preterm delivery ("defined as <37 completed weeks of gestation"), tobacco smoking during pregnancy and the use of various prescription medicines during pregnancy, some interesting trends were observed.

"Women with autism were at an increased risk of preterm birth..., which after stratification, remained for moderately (32 to <37 weeks) preterm birth." Also: "Maternal autism was also linked with an increased risk of elective cesarean delivery in births to women with autism" and "Preeclampsia was more prevalent in mothers with autism."

Although not seemingly affecting many of the 'adverse' pregnancy outcomes examined, researchers also noted that rates of tobacco smoking (light and heavy use) during early pregnancy were elevated in mums with autism, alongside prescription medicine use (antiepileptics, antipsychotics, hypnotics/anxiolytics, antidepressants) being more frequently reported before and during pregnancy compared to non-autistic pregnant mums. Authors reported that "there was no increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes except for induction of delivery" but one has to remember that the focus was on pregnancy outcomes - "completed weeks of gestation, mode of delivery, 5-minute Apgar scores, intrauterine growth, stillbirth, and maternal complications (preeclampsia and gestational diabetes)" - and does not say anything about longer term post-pregnancy outcomes. I say this with a few potential 'issues' in mind (see here and see here and see here).

The Sundelin study is by no means perfect - a "limitation is the lack of information on life circumstances" - but does carry the research weight that comes from those extremely well-categorised Scandinavian population registries. The authors conclude that their: "results suggest a need for individual prenatal care for women with autism, weighing pros and cons for continuation of psychotropic medication, with a better understanding of the difficulties related to autism, especially regarding the communication with health care professionals." Who am I to argue with them?


[1] Sundelin HE. et al. Pregnancy outcomes in women with autism: a nationwide population-based cohort study. Clin Epidemiol. 2018 Nov 30;10:1817-1826.


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