Does Preeclampsia Raise Autism Risk?

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Exposure to preeclampsia in utero may raise the risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and developmental delay (DD), according to data from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study.

Preeclampsia, especially severe cases, was linked to a twofold increase in risk for ASDs and greater than a fivefold increase in risk for DD in babies compared to those with no exposure, according to Cheryl K. Walker, MD, of the University of California Davis MIND Institute, and colleagues.

Preeclampsia is more prevalent in women who are overweight, obese, or who have diabetes or chronic hypertension, and the researchers noted that over half of the pregnant women in the U.S. are overweight or obese, making this possible relationship between preeclampsia and neurodevelopmental disorders a public health imperative.

The study analyzed 1,061 children from single pregnancies, including 517 with ASDs, 194 with DD, and 350 typically developed children. 7.7% of children with ASDs had been exposed to preeclampsia, compared to 5.1% of children with DD and 3.7% typically developed children. After adjusting for education, parity, and pre-pregnancy obesity, the adjusted odds ratio for ASDs with preeclampsia exposure was 2.36 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.18 - 4.68).

Although the study cannot establish cause between preeclampsia and ASDs or DD, the researchers emphasized the need to optimize metabolic health before and during gestation in order to improve prenatal outcomes.

However, fellow researchers have expressed some concern over the study’s results, saying that the figures are not significant and are too small to create a causal association between the disorders. 

Pregnant woman
Does Preeclampsia Raise Autism Risk?
Fetal exposure to preeclampsia, and in particular, severe disease, may raise the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and developmental delay (DD), a large population-based study suggests.

Results from the Northern California–based Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study show that exposure to preeclampsia in utero was associated with a greater than twofold increased risk for ASD and a greater than fivefold increased risk for DD, compared with no exposure.

The study was published online December 8 in JAMA Pediatrics

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