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Study finds no link between epidural and autism

It is routine when women are giving birth that epidural anesthesia is administered. Epidurals are commonly administered to help prevent pain during childbirth. A recent study refutes an earlier study that stated that there was a link between epidural anesthesia and an increased risk of autism. The researchers in the new study found no link between epidural administration and an increased risk of autism later in life.

Stanford senior study author Alex Butwick, MD, said the team found no evidence of any “genuine link” between having an epidural and putting a baby at risk for autism spectrum disorder. The researchers say that epidurals are the most common form of pain relief during childbirth and are used by about three-quarters of women who go into labor in the United States. Autism affects one in 54 children worldwide.

The study’s researchers say the vast majority of evidence surrounding epidurals, including data from the new study, shows that an epidural is the most effective means of providing pain relief to women during childbirth and that serious complications are rare. The researchers say that pain relief administered through an epidural presents a lower risk for the mother and baby than the general anesthesia that may be required if an emergency cesarean section is necessary.

A study in October 2020 said there was a 37% higher risk of autism if the mother received an epidural. However, this study was criticized for not taking into account socioeconomic, genetic and medical risk factors for autism separate from epidural administration. Other experts noted that it was biologically implausible that the epidural increased the risk of autism.

The new study examined the use of epidural during childbirth and subsequent diagnosis of autism in Manitoba, Canada. He examined 123,175 children born between 2005 and 2016, following these children until 2019. Of those studied, 38.2 percent were exposed to epidural anesthesia during labor, and the rest were not. Of those exposed to epidurals during labor, 2.1 percent were later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder compared to 1.7 percent of children who were not exposed to epidurals.

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