Antidepressants, which are drugs prescribed to help those dealing with depression, offer benefits for many who take them on a regular basis. However, as is the case with many prescription drugs, there are risks associated with their use. While anyone who is prescribed antidepressants, especially SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, need to be aware of these risks, it is of particular importance for pregnant women to understand them.
Pregnancy and Antidepressants
Pregnant women who suffer from depression must make a difficult decision – discontinue the use of certain antidepressant medications and deal with the debilitating issues associated with untreated depression, or continue taking the drug despite the potential risks for the unborn child.
The effects of SSRIs have undergone considerable study about the possible risks during pregnancy. However, much of this information is based on speculation due to the ethics involved with using pregnant women to study the drugs and their risks. As a result, the evidence surrounding the real risks of antidepressant birth injury continues to become known as more children are being born to mothers taking the drugs.
Antidepressant Risks During Pregnancy
SSRIs, such as Zoloft and Paxil, are the most commonly prescribed medications for depression. In some cases, doctors and patients may determine that the overall benefits of continuing the drugs during pregnancy are greater than the risks to the unborn child, but numerous studies have shown that this might not always be the case. In fact, evidence suggests that:
- Mothers taking SSRIs are 33 percent more likely to have a newborn that suffers from respiratory distress
- Parents taking SSRIs have a 60 percent risk of having a newborn with heart defects
- SSRI use has been linked to a 3 percent increase in Autism disorders
Additionally, there is also considerable evidence that links antidepressant use to other birth injuries.
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
PPHN is a serious condition that has been associated with SSRI use during pregnancy. This condition causes the newborn to be unable to breathe properly outside of the womb, requiring the use of mechanical ventilators to ensure that the baby receives enough oxygen. In some severe cases, PPHN may cause brain damage, organ injury or even death.
Heart defects in newborns are another antidepressant birth injury concern. In 2011, Eli Lilly, the drug manufacturer of Prozac, released a statement warning that use of the medication could cause septal heart defects. These defects, which are known as holes in the heart walls, can have a serious impact on circulation. While the holes close over time for many babies, many continue to suffer ill health afterwards.
Neural Tube Defects
Neural tube defects have also been linked to the use of antidepressants during pregnancy. There are three conditions that fall into this category:
- Anencephaly – A malformation of the infant’s brain that often results in death
- Craniosynostosis – A malformation of the skull, which can lead to brain damage and neurological side effects
- Omphalocele – A condition in which an infant has a hole in the abdomen that allows the stomach, intestines, and liver to extrude outside of the body, requiring surgery to relocate the organs.
Another possible antidepressant birth injury is cleft lip or cleft palate. A cleft lip occurs when the structures of the upper lip don’t form properly, and cleft palate occurs when the roof of the mouth doesn’t close properly. Both of these issues can cause problems with eating, breathing, and speech.
Antidepressant Birth injuries can be severe, life-long complications. If you gave birth to a child suffering from birth defects after taking antidepressants during pregnancy, you should contact an attorney to determine whether you could receive compensation for your case.