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Study Suggests Early Signs of Autism Can Be Identified in Prenatal Ultrasound

A routine prenatal ultrasound in the second trimester of pregnancy can identify early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Soroka Medical Center in Israel. 

Early Signs of Autism Can Be Identified in Routine Prenatal Ultrasound

Researchers from the Azrieli National Centre for Autism and Neurodevelopment Research published their findings recently in the peer-reviewed journal Brain.

They examined data from hundreds of prenatal ultrasound scans from a fetal anatomy survey conducted during mid-gestation. They found anomalies in the heart, kidneys, and head in 30% of fetuses which later developed ASD, a three times higher rate than was found in typically developing fetuses from the general population and twice as high as their typically developing siblings.

Anomalies were detected more often in girls than in boys and the severity of the anomalies was also linked to the subsequent severity of ASD.

Doctors could spot signs of autism during a routine ultrasound

Professor Idan Menashe, a member of the Centre and the Department of Public Health in the Faculty of Health Sciences, led the research with his MD/PhD student Ohad Regev.

“Doctors can use these signs, discernible during a routine ultrasound, to evaluate the probability of the child being born with ASD,” said Professor Menashe.

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“Previous studies have shown that children born with congenital diseases, primarily those involving the heart and kidneys, had a higher chance of developing ASD. Our findings suggest that certain types of ASD that involve other organ anomalies, begin and can be detected in utero.”

Evidence supports prenatal influences on autism

There is much evidence pointing to the prenatal predisposition of autism, but data relating to abnormalities in fetuses later developing into children on the spectrum is minimal. 

“Prenatal ultrasound is an excellent tool to study abnormal fetal development as it is frequently used to monitor fetal growth and identify fetal anomalies throughout pregnancy,” the researchers commented. 

“Our findings shed important light on the abnormal multiorgan embryonic development of ASD and suggest fetal ultrasonography biomarkers for ASD.”

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