According to Health Day News on Saturday, a new preliminary study finds that women with lupus are twice as likely to have a child with autism compared to mothers without the autoimmune disease.
Dr. Evelyne Vinet, an assistant professor in the rheumatology department at McGill University Health Center in Montreal, said:
"We identified all women with systemic lupus erythematosus in a Quebec database and matched them to women who didn't have SLE, and we were able to see how many of their children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder," Vinet said.
About 1.4 percent of children born to women with lupus were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, compared to 0.6 percent of children born to women without lupus, the study found. It's important to note that while this study found an association between lupus in women and autism in their children, it wasn't designed to prove that the mother's lupus caused the autism.
What is lupus?
Systemic lupus erythematosus, also called SLE or lupus, is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, and/or other organs of the body. The most common symptoms include skin rashes and arthritis, often accompanied by fatigue and fever. Lupus occurs mostly in women, typically developing in individuals in their twenties and thirties – prime child-bearing age.
Recent experimental studies suggest exposure to a mother’s antibodies and cytokines while in the womb are important risk factors for autism spectrum disorders (commonly called ASD). Interestingly, women with lupus display autoantibodies and cytokines, which — when studied in animals — have been shown to alter fetal brain development and induce behavioural irregularities in offspring.
What is an autism spectrum disorder?
Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, collectively called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment, or disability, that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled.
The researchers found that children born to mothers with lupus had approximately 2.3-fold greater odds of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders than children born to mothers without lupus.
The researchers also examined more closely a smaller group of women in the larger group to see if medication usage during pregnancy made a difference in their children's risk for autism.
Among 1,925 children for whom the researchers had information about the mothers' medication use, only 18 had autism.
Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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