The exact cause of autism is not known, but studies support a strong genetic predisposition of the disorder. The development of autism is traced to the presence of genetic abnormalities especially on the genes that affect the neural signaling in the brain. The presence of family history of autism may increase the risk of the development of the disorder in succeeding generations and twins also have a greater chance to have autism when the other twin is affected.
Along with genetics, environmental factors are also seen as causes of autism. This may include exposure of the pregnant mother to certain chemicals such as phthalates, pesticides, heavy metals, infectious diseases, phenols, smoking, alcohol, vaccines, flame retardants and other toxic substances. Pregnant mothers who are exposed to these factors during the first trimester when organogenesis or the formation of the brain takes place may have offspring with autism. However, there are no strong evidence of these occurrences.
The development of autism tends to happen during the early life as early as infancy. Signs of autism are usually observed even during infancy and the signs tend to manifest more as the child grows. Not all people with genetic predisposition to autism may develop the condition; however, a study revealed that normal people with genetic predisposition for autism may eventually develop the disorder when they are exposed to certain pharmacologic agents.
This finding was seen in a recent study conducted at the Idaho State University. The study involved the use of fathead minnows, a variety of fish, which have similar gene expression as humans in terms of autism. The study revealed that when these fish were exposed to certain pharmacologic agents, the gene expression profiles were affected, which is related to the development of autism.
These pharmacologic agents tend to be medications used to treat neurological disorders. These include fluoxetine, an antidepressant drug with a class of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor; carbamazepine, an anticonvulsant drug; and venlafaxine, a Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor.
The study further showed that these pharmacologic agents only affected the gene expression associated with autism spectrum disorders, which are largely genetically predisposed. In conclusion, these agents may just trigger autism in genetically predisposed individuals when taken in adequate amounts to cause autism.
While the exact cause of autism is unknown, it is essential that people know their family history of diseases in order to avoid potential risk factors that may lead to the development of disorders. In line with autism, people who have a family history of the disease should as much as possible avoid pharmacological and environmental agents that may trigger autism later in life. Also, pregnant mothers should also avoid these factors to ensure that their offspring may not develop the disorder especially when genetic predisposition is present.
Autism is not a disease that can just go away or can be treated. Autism is a lifelong disorder that may affect the learning abilities of children. Although the symptoms can be reduced and the child may have maximum abilities, preventing autism is still more essential.
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