Were your children destined from conception to an eventual diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
For decades, the consensus among researchers would have been “yes.” That thinking, however, is changing.
Much research, especially during the past several years, has focused on environmental causes of autism, which diagnostically includes any cause not genetic.
Researchers are exploring how the fate of developing nerve cells might be forever changed by exposure to specific chemical compounds. Potential risks for autism unrelated to genetics include parental age, illness during a mother’s pregnancy, and any chemical compounds ingested, inhaled, or injected by the mother during pregnancy.
The Autistic Fraternal Twins Resource Center focuses primarily on one cause: the use of terbutaline sulfate to treat premature labor.
Never tested for use during pregnancy
The FDA approved terbutaline, also known under the brand names of Brethine®, Bricanyl®, and Brethaire®, in 1974 for the treatment of asthma. The drug works by calming bronchial smooth muscle, which is similar to the muscles of the uterus. Within years, physicians were prescribing terbutaline off label to calm the contractions of premature labor; by the late 1990s, terbutaline was the most widely used drug for treating premature labor. However, drug manufacturers never tested the safety of terbutaline for that purpose, nor did they seek FDA approval to use the drug for treatment of preterm labor. Despite evidence that terbutaline was effective only for about 48 hours, pregnant women were prescribed oral tablets, sometimes taken for weeks at a time, to prevent subsequent contractions.
In 2011, the FDA required drug manufacturers to place a prominent warning label on terbutaline packages advising against using terbutaline to treat preterm labor for longer than 48 to 72 hours, saying that terbutaline simply lost its effectiveness when used longer. The FDA label recommends against the use of oral terbutaline to treat preterm labor under any circumstance.
That same year, research showed that mothers treated with terbutaline for premature labor were considerably more likely to bear children diagnosed with ASD. Another study prompted reconsideration of how non-genetic factors might affect brain development.
Unlike news reports linking childhood vaccinations to autism, information about the dangers of terbutaline to developing fetuses emerges from peer-reviewed studies and decades of research. Animal studies show that extended use of terbutaline during critical points of gestation can cause cognitive impairment consistent with autism in mice pups.
Autism rates increasing
Meanwhile, the prevalence rate of ASD in the United States has increased dramatically.
The spike in ASD prevalence roughly coincides with the time period terbutaline grew in popularity for treating early labor. The causes of autism are varied and many; terbutaline is but one of many neurotoxins that may alter the fate of developing brain cells. For those parents whose children might have been adversely affected by maternal exposure to terbutaline, the consequences for those children and their families can be enormous.
This web site is an information resource for parents seeking accurate, reliable information on the use of terbutaline for preterm labor and a possible link to autism. In collaboration with a master’s level health writer, Cappolino | Dodd | Krebs LLP has established this site to answer questions by its clients and anyone else seeking information.
Cappolino | Dodd | Krebs LLP offers a case review at no charge to the parents of autistic fraternal twins or higher-order multiples whose mother was treated with terbutaline for 48 hours or longer.