Antidepressants (SSRIs)

Anti-depressants have been linked to serious birth defects when used during pregnancy.

Select Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are a widely prescribed class of drugs most often used as antidepressants to treat major depression and anxiety disorders. Since 2005, scientific studies have shown the risk of birth defect is increased for babies whose mothers take SSRI anti-depressants during pregnancy.

Several studies show that antidepressant drugs like Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Effexor, Lexapro, Pristiq and Prozac double the risk of cardiac birth defects. Other birth defects that may be caused by the use of SSRIs during pregnancy  include the following:

  • PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn)
  • Neural tube defects (brain and spinal cord)
  • Craniosynostosis (skull defect)
  • Infant omphalocele (abdominal wall defects)
  • Clubfoot (one or both feet turn downward and inward)
  • Anal atresia (complete or partial closure of the anus)
  • Limb Defects
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate

As a result of various studies relating to the dangers of SSRIs during pregnancy, the FDA issued a Public Health Advisory in 2006 warning of the risks inherent in the use of these anti-depressants. According to the FDA Public Health Advisory:

Patients and physicians must carefully consider and discuss together the potential benefits and risks of treatment with antidepressants during pregnancy. Two new studies provide important information to be considered in making such decisions. The studies included women who had been treated with antidepressant drugs that act as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or, in a few cases, other antidepressants.

Antidepressant Birth Defects Studies

[One study] suggests there may be additional, though rare, risks of SSRI medications during pregnancy. This study focused on newborn babies with persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), which is a serious and life-threatening lung condition that occurs soon after birth of the newborn. Babies with PPHN have high pressure in their lung blood vessels and are not able to get enough oxygen into their bloodstream. About 1 to 2 babies per 1,000 born in the U.S. develop PPHN shortly after birth, and often they need intensive medical care. In this study, PPHN was six times more common in babies whose mothers took an SSRI antidepressant after the 20th week of the pregnancy compared to babies whose mothers did not take an antidepressant.

The finding of PPHN in babies of mothers who used a SSRI antidepressant in the second half of pregnancy adds to concerns coming from previous reports that infants of mothers taking SSRIs late in pregnancy may experience difficulties such as irritability, difficulty feeding and in very rare cases, difficulty breathing. In addition, the labeling for paroxetine (Paxil) was recently changed to add information about findings in an epidemiology study suggesting that exposure to the drug in the first trimester of pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of cardiac birth defects.”

Since 2006, numerous additional studies have confirmed the increased risk of birth defects in women using SSRIs during pregnancy. For example, one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2007 linked SSRIs to serious birth defects, including persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). The study found that women who took SSRIs during their third trimester were six times more likely to deliver babies born with PPHN—or to have babies that would develop primary pulmonary hypertension—than women who did not take SSRIs during their third trimester.

Another study published in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests a link between the use of SSRIs in the year prior to delivery and an increased risk of having a baby with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers found that when SSRIs were used in the 12 months prior to delivery, the risk of having a baby with autism spectrum disorder doubled. When the SSRIs were used during the first trimester, however, that risk quadrupled.

A study published in March 2012 in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology suggests that pregnant women who use an SSRI during pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing pregnancy-induced hypertension. According to the study, women who used any antidepressant while pregnant were at a 50 percent increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, those who used an SSRI were 60 percent more likely to develop pregnancy-induced hypertension and those who used Paxil were 80 percent more likely to develop the hypertension.

Birth Defects Lawsuits Filed Against Antidepressant Manufacturers

If you or a loved one took an SSRI anti-depressant during  or immediately before pregnancy and gave birth to a child who suffered from birth defects such as those listed above, you may be entitled to compensation. The first step in determining whether you might be eligible to file a lawsuit on behalf of your child is to speak with an experienced attorney about the details of your case.

For a free consultation about your situation and to find out whether you may qualify to file a lawsuit, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson to speak with our staff about your case. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form located on this website.