Study Finds Link Between Spinal Anesthesia During Labor and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Study Finds Link Between Spinal Anesthesia During Labor and Autism Spectrum Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Organization, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is “… a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication... The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.” Although the exact cause (or causes) of ASD remains unknown, previous studies have noted a link between birth by Cesarean Section and the later development of ASD. Now, a study published in the “online first” edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association: Pediatrics has suggested a link between epidural (“spinal”) anesthesia during labor and the subsequent appearance of symptoms associated with ASD.

In the latter study the authors noted that, of ~ 148,000 births studied, there were 2,524 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD. After adjusting for other factors, the study authors found that infants whose mothers received a spinal anesthetic during labor were ~ 40% more likely to deliver a child who would later be diagnosed with ASD than were mothers who did not receive a spinal anesthetic. When taken with previously-published work by other investigators, anesthesia administered during labor seems to be associated with a higher risk for the subsequent development of ASD in children exposed to anesthesia prior to birth. Interestingly, other studies have shown that exposure to general anesthesia after birth and before the child is two years old is not associated with a higher risk for later development of ASD.

In the above-cited paper, the authors were unable to associate specific analgesic (pain-relieving) medications with the later diagnosis of ASD. However, the association of ASD with the use of general anesthesia and in spinal/epidural anesthesia during “c-section” has been known for several years, apparently without these risks being communicated to expectant mothers in terms that would allow mothers to give informed consent regarding the management of the last stages of their pregnancies. If subsequent investigations reveal that the suspicions regarding the use of spinal anesthesia and the development of ASD were not revealed to expectant mothers, such “failure to warn” could be interpreted as an act of medical malpractice and could expose both the delivering obstetrician and the anesthesiologist to significant liability.

At The Doan Law Firm our medical malpractice lawyer will be closely monitoring the medical literature for additional developments in this matter and will provide updates from the professional legal and medical literature as they become available.