Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Weighing the Risks
Pregnant women who use certain types of antidepressants may be inadvertently putting their unborn child at risk for developing serious health complications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, antidepressant use in the U.S. has increased by approximately 400% since 1998. As of 2008, 1 in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 was taking some type of antidepressant medication, with women almost twice as likely to use these drugs as men.
Antidepressant use among pregnant women has become a controversial topic, with many researchers arguing that the drugs may contribute to an increased risk of serious birth defects in newborns. Studies have tentatively linked selective serotnin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Zoloft and Paxil, to numerous complications, including heart defects and persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN). PPHN is a condition in which the blood pressure in the lungs becomes elevated, making it more difficult for the heart to function properly.
In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an updated safety communication advising women and health care professionals that using Paxil during the first trimester could potentially cause heart defects in the developing fetus. The FDA ordered GlaxoSmithKline, Paxil’s manufacturer, to include stronger warning labels advising patients of the risks.
In 2006, the FDA issued another warning concerning the potential link between SSRIs and persistent pulmonary hypertension. Citing a 2006 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the FDA advised physicians to discuss the full range of potential side effects with pregnant mothers who were taking SSRIs. That study concluded that newborns whose mothers took an SSRI after the 20th week of pregnancy were up to six times more likely to be diagnosed with PPHN.
Additional research studies have yielded mixed results, prompting the FDA to issue another safety communication regarding SSRIs in December 2011. Based on a lack of conclusive data, the FDA concluded that health care professionals could continue to use SSRI antidepressants to treat depression among pregnant women. The FDA also advised women against discontinuing their antidepressant use without first consulting a doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women who stop using SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy may actually put themselves and their unborn child at risk for other adverse side effects. Abruptly stopping antidepressant use can potentially cause nausea, vomiting, chills, anxiety, fatigue or irritability, all of which can make it more difficult for the expecting mother to care for herself properly. Women may also experience more severe symptoms of post-partum depression if they aren’t taking their medication properly. Stopping antidepressant use also does not appear to reduce withdrawal symptoms for newborns.
With more and more women filing birth defects injury lawsuits against the makers of Zoloft, Paxil and other SSRIs, the issue of whether the drugs are dangerous will continue to be a subject of debate. If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant and are experiencing symptoms of depression, you need to consult your physician to determine the best course of treatment. If you or a loved one gave birth to a child with serious birth defects and you took an SSRI antidepressant while pregnant, you should consider contacting a California birth defect injury lawyer to discuss your legal rights.
Nadrich & Cohen, LLP is a national law firm specializing in representing individuals who were harmed by a prescription drug, such as Paxil or Zoloft. For more information on filing a birth defect injury claim, call 1-800-718-4658.