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In a study published this week in the the online edition of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers found that women who took the antidepressants during pregnancy were more likely to give birth to a child that suffered from seizures. Women who used the medications also had a higher chance of giving birth earlier.
The research was a cohort study involving 228,876 pregnancies covered by Tennessee Medicaid from 1995 to 2007. The data showed that 23,380 of those women, about 10%, had antidepressant prescriptions before they got pregnant. Only about 11% of those used antidepressants throughout pregnancy.
Women who took SSRIs during their third trimester were up to five times as likely to give birth to a baby that had seizures shortly after it was born, although the researchers noted that the risk was still small and the seizures seemed to do no lasting harm. Women who took antidepressants of any kind during their second trimester could have double the risk of going into labor early.
Researchers concluded that most women know to stop using antidepressants once they discover they are pregnant, but continued use increased the risk of infant convulsions and preterm birth.
Use of some antidepressants during pregnancy, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have previously been linked to an increased risk of birth defects and malformations, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), spina bifida, heart defects, lung defects, abdominal defects, cranial defects and other malformations.
Among the class of SSRI antidepressants, Zoloft (sertraline) has become one of the most prescribed antidepressants in the United States, with nearly 30 million prescriptions.
In recent months, a growing number of lawsuits over birth defects from Zoloft use during pregnancy have been filed in state and federal courts throughout the United States, alleging that the drug maker failed to adequately warn consumers or the medical community about the risks associated with the antidepressant.