Do Anti-Depressants Cause Birth Defects?

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that newborns born to mothers who took a class of anti-depressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, known as SSRIs, during pregnancy face a risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension in Newborns (PPHN) six times greater than the risk to babies whose mothers did not take SSRIs while pregnant.

SSRI anti-depressants are a class of drugs that affect the chemical levels of serotonin. Included in the SSRI class are Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro and other highly prescribed anti-depressants. Recent FDA studies have shown that SSRIs have been linked to cardiac pharmaceutical birth defects in children whose mothers took these dangerous drugs during pregnancy.

PPHN is a fatal birth defect that causes the arteries in the lungs to severely restrict in affected infants. This restriction leads to high blood pressure in the pulmonary artery causing restricted blood flow and low levels of oxygen in the blood. Even when treated, PPHN may result in shock, heart failure, brain hemorrhage, organ damage, kidney failure and seizures.

In addition to PPHN, a Pediatrics study conducted in 2004 showed that babies born to mothers who took SSRIs during pregnancy had an increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms, disrupted neurological development, unusual sleep patterns and alertness problems. A similar study found that mothers who took SSRIs during pregnancy had an increased risk of giving birth to babies who had sleep disturbances, tremors, seizures and gastrointestinal problems.

Many of the SSRIs, such as Zoloft, are used to treat depression, obsessive- compulsive disorder, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder. They are also used to relieve symptoms of premenstrual dysphoric disorder, including mood swings, irritability and other related symptoms. They work by increasing the amounts of serotonin, a natural substance, in the brain that helps to maintain mental balance.

An increased risk of birth complications including congenital heart deformities have been linked to anti-depressant medications such as Zoloft, when taken by women who are pregnant.

Other birth defects linked to anti-depressants taken during pregnancy are Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN), omphalocele and craniosynostosis.

Some of the common birth defects in newborns that may be caused by Lexapro include seizures, an unstable body temperature and low blood sugar level, although Lexapro has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is prescribed by doctors often.

Some studies show that when Celexa is taken during pregnancy, it can cause health problems to the developing newborn.  The studies show that exposure to the drug while in utero makes the baby restless and can cause tremors, as well as irritability in the newborn, during early weeks of the babies’ life.

Various studies have shown that while their benefits outweigh the risks for most patients, a point of concern remains when women who become pregnant, or are even thinking of becoming pregnant, continue on the medication through their pregnancy.  This concern is present even when the drugs are taken only during a part of the pregnancy.

Although many patients and their doctors feel that the benefits of these potentially dangerous drugs outweigh the risks, they may change their minds if they have a newborn that is affected adversely by these SSRIs.  Then they will truly have a reason to be depressed.

If you or a loved one took anti-depressants during your pregnancy and your newborn suffered adverse side effects, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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