New Study Confirms a Significant Risk of Birth Defects Associated With Use of SSRI Depression Drugs During Pregnancy

A newly published study adds to what was already a significant body of evidence linking certain depression medications with a number of birth defects. Researchers at Helsinki University in Finland, supported by the Finnish Medicines Agency (Finland’s equivalent of the U.S. FDA) and Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, reported that in a large retrospective cohort-based study of national birth register data collected between the years 1996-2006, certain antidepressant medications were linked to major fetal abnormalities, including heart and neurological defects. The study conducted by Dr. Heli Malm, published in the July 2011 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology, was titled “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Risk for Major Congenital Anomalies.”

All of the implicated drugs belong to a class of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which include such commonly prescribed medications as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (cilatopram). SSRI drugs have previously been suspected of causing a number of birth defects, including an increased risk of cardiovascular anomalies, brain and skeletal defects such as anencephaly, craniosynostosis, and omphalocele, as well as limb reduction defects.

In the new study, Prozac (fluoxetine ) use was associated with an increased risk of isolated ventricular septal defects (one or more holes in the wall that separates the right and left ventricles of the heart). Paxil (paroxetine) was associated with right ventricular outflow tract defects, another serious congenital heart problem.

Whether or not SSRI medications cause birth defects is of critical importance to mothers and prescribing doctors who must weigh the risks and benefits of various treatments for depression, which is itself a significant and potentially life-threatening condition. It has been estimated that approximately 10% of pregnant women experience depression, and up to 20% exhibit symptoms of depression. Increasing numbers of women have been prescribed newer classes of antidepressants, including SSRIs, and reported data shows up to 3%–6% of pregnant women are using these drugs.

The authors of the Finnish study point out that, while the “absolute risk” of SSRI-related birth defects may be small, their findings “should guide clinicians to not consider fluoxetine (Prozac) or paroxetine (Paxil) as the first options when prescribing these drugs to women planning pregnancy,” and that “special attention should be given to alcohol use, smoking, and use of other psychiatric drugs in pregnant women using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.”

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Again, if you or a loved one has given birth to a child with a birth defect that you feel may be the result of taking an antidepressant during pregnancy, you should contact our lawyers immediately by clicking the link below or calling toll free 1-(949) 557-5800. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and we can help.