New Studies Lend Weight to the Long-Suspected Link Between Antidepressants and Heart Birth Defects

Recent evidence suggests that the long-suspected link between popular selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), like Paxil and Prozac, and congenital heart birth defects is more relevant than ever before. According to Finnish researchers, who published their findings in Obstetrics & Gynecology medical journal; when pregnant women use the antidepressants Prozac and Paxil, they can significantly increase the risk of their child being born with a severe, life-threatening congenital heart birth defect.

The article acknowledges that 31 out of every 10,000 women who took Paxil during pregnancy gave birth to a child with right ventricular outflow tract defects that affect blood flow from the right chambers of the heart to the rest of the body, more than four times the frequency of births among women who did not take Paxil. Accordingly, women who took Prozac during pregnancy showed a significant increase in birth defects from those taking Paxil. Out of every 10,000 babies born to mothers taking Prozac, 105 showed signs of ventrical septal defects, a birth defect characterized by a hole located between the left and right sides of the heart.

Perhaps even more shocking than the aforementioned statistics, researchers partaking in the study discovered that pregnant women who took an SSRI antidepressant are twice as likely to give birth to a child with a neural tube defect than those who do not.

As their name suggests, SSRI’s like Paxil and Prozac work to stabilize naturally occurring brain chemicals like serotonin. SSRI’s actually work to prevent the reuptake of serotonin so that larger quantities are permitted to stimulate the proper brain cells. As a result, nerve cells in the brain receive the proper serotonin stimulation and reduce the symptoms associated with depression. Studies have discovered that serotonin plays a significant role in influencing a person’s mood.

However, SSRI’s like Paxil and Prozac may not demonstrate a favorable risk -benefit profile. Paxil and Prozac may be responsible for a significant increase in heart birth defects after women take them during pregnancy. Catastrophic side effects such as these may not warrant the use of dangerous antidepressants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledged the dangers associated with Paxil, Prozac, and SSRI’s in general when they issued a safety alert in December of 2005. After the release of studies that indicated the drugs may be responsible for an increased risk of heart defects when taken during the first three months of pregnancy, the FDA required manufacturers to update the warning label to include information about the risk of birth defects.