An analysis of data from electronic health records of nearly 600,000 children born in Kaiser Permanente hospitals in southern California between 1991 and 2009 has found a link between complications soon before or during birth and a higher risk of a child developing an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The study demonstrates the power of using EHRs to provide data for medical research that could impact care delivery and lay the groundwork for additional analysis.

Of the 594,638 records examined, 6,255 children were diagnosed with ASD; of those, 37 percent experienced perinatal complications, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Perinatology.

Darios Getahun
Darios Getahun

These children with complications during birth had a 10 percent higher risk of ASD, and that number increased to 22 percent if complications began before labor. In all, children exposed to complications before and during birth had a 44 percent higher risk.

Also See: A biomarker to predict autism?

Complications with the highest risk of ASD included birth asphyxia, preeclampsia, premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, breech/transverse fetal presentation, fetal dystocia/abnormal size or position, and a prolapsed/exposed umbilical cord, according to study results.

“Our study suggests that children exposed to certain perinatal complications, especially birth asphyxia and preeclampsia, were more likely to be diagnosed with ASD than those who were not exposed, even after adjusting for factors such as gestational age at birth and a mother’s age, race and education,” lead author Darios Getahun, MD, says.

Two other Kaiser studies in 2014 and 2015 found siblings have 14 times higher risk of developing ASD if an older sibling has it, and children with mothers that developed gestational diabetes by the 26th week of pregnancy also faced increased risk.

The most recent study is available here.

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