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The findings of a new study suggest that pregnant women who take antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro may increase the risk that their child is born with a congenital heart defect, or that the pregnancy results in a stillbirth.
Researchers from Denmark, the U.K. and Norway found that exposure to a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during the first trimester of pregnancy, when many women do not even realize they are pregnant, was associated with an increased risk of congenital heart defects (CHDs) and stillbirth. The findings were published earlier this month in the medical journal PLoS One.
SSRI antidepressants are some of the most widely used drugs in the United States, and are prescribed to up to 10.2% of pregnant women. However, the side effects of SSRIs, which include blockbuster medications like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro and others, have previously been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, miscarriage, autism, and other problems when used during pregnancy.
A number of previous studies have suggested that this class of drugs is linked to an increased risk of birth defects. However, in this latest study, researchers from Swansea University conducted a dose-response analysis to try to make a stronger causal connection between the antidepressants and the birth defects.
The study looked at medical registries in Norway, Wales and Denmark, involving more than half a million deliveries and pregnancies terminated due to congenital anomalies.
The findings indicate that the use of the drugs Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa, and Lexapro within 91 days of a pregnant woman’s last menstrual period was linked to a 50% increase in the risk of congenital heart defects. In addition, the number of stillbirths rose from 6 per every 200 pregnancies, to 7 per every 200 pregnancies for women on SSRIs. There was a slight increase in overall congenital defects, but it did not appear to be statistically significant, the researchers concluded.
Researchers said the findings should be of concern considering the large amount of women who use the drugs.
“The additional absolute risk of teratogenesis associated with SSRIs, if causal, is small,” the researchers concluded. “However, the high prevalence of SSRI use augments its public health importance, justifying modifications to preconception care.”
Antidepressant Pregnancy Concerns
This research is the latest in a series of studies that highlight potential concerns surrounding pregnancy use of antidepressants.
In a study published in April in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers from Johns Hopkins also found a link between the use of SSRIs during pregnancy and autism in boys. That study found the risk effectively tripled. However, research into the association has turned up inconsistent results.
In November 2013, a study published in the medical journal Clinical Epidemiology raised questions on whether there was an actual association between autism and SSRIs. The Danish researchers who conducted that study found no such link after looking at data on more than 600,000 children.
However, the Danish findings contradicted a study published in April in the British Medical Journal, which indicated that there is a link between parental depression, antidepressant use and the risk of autism. That study, which looked at 4,429 cases of autism and more than 40,000 controls, finding that women who took any antidepressant while pregnant were about twice as likely to give birth to a child that would later test on the autism spectrum.
In July 2011, researchers from Kaiser Permanente reported that the use of SSRI antidepressants while pregnant was linked to twice the risk of giving birth to an autistic child.
In addition to autism, many popular antidepressants have been linked to a risk of serious health problems for children exposed to the medication before birth, including septal heart defects, skull malformations, neural tube defects, abdominal defects, spina bifida and other serious injuries.
Recent studies have also found that antidepressant use in pregnancy may increase the risk of seizure problems and delay of infant development milestones, such as sitting and walking are affected by antidepressant use during pregnancy.
Pregnancy antidepressant risks have also been linked to a serious respiratory disorder, known as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN), which may cause insufficient blood flow to the lungs, leading to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.
In recent years, a growing number of Zoloft lawsuits and Paxil lawsuits have been filed in courts throughout the United States on behalf of children born with defects and malformations after exposure to the medication during pregnancy.
The complaints allege that the manufacturers of the medications failed to adequately research the risks associated with use of the antidepressant in pregnancy, or provide proper warnings to women about the risk of becoming pregnant while using the medication.