A US study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Paediatrics involving more than 1,000 children has revealed the

development of autism in children is twice as likely when a mother has experienced pre-eclampsia during birth.

Pre-eclampsia – a condition that only occurs in pregnancy – is typically characterised by high blood pressure and swelling, also often including stomach pains.

Dr Cheryl Walker, senior research author from the University of California’s Davis School of Medicine, tells ABC’s Sarah Sedghi there is a definite link, although experts can’t confirm pre-eclampsia causes autism.

“What is going on inside the body, typically, is that the placenta is not attached as well as it should be so that there is a slightly less-than-average amount of nutrition and oxygen going to the baby.

“And most people believe that if, say, it’s almost like a cry for help. The baby’s reaching out and the mother is getting sick trying to figure out how to provide what the baby needs,” said Dr Walker.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects the way individuals relate to their environment socially. The word spectrum describes a range of difficulties and varying degrees.

Dr Walker is hoping the study can be replicated outside of the U.S. to see if the link exists world-wide. The study also revealed pre-eclampsia rates are higher among women exposed to high levels of air pollution and pesticides.

This could spur further research into the role environmental chemicals play in the development of pre-clampsia and whether or not pre-eclampsia might just be a signal for things occurring  in the broader environment of a pregnant woman.

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