Antidepressant use during pregnancy linked to increased risk of fetal heart defect

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by Heygood Orr and Pearson

A study published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has found that women who use antidepressants during the final trimester of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). PPHN is a serious condition in which the newborn’s circulatory system fails to properly transition from the fetal state after being born.

According to the NEJM study, women who take a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, during the final months of pregnancy are twice as likely to give birth to a child with PPHN. SSRIs include such commonly prescribed antidepressants as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro.

Health officials have advised women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant to talk with their doctor about the safety of taking SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy. Although rare, SSRIs have been shown to increase the risk of a number of cardiovascular conditions and other birth defects besides PPHN.

Some of the most commonly cited heart defects linked to the use of SSRIs during pregnancy include atrial and ventral septal defects, cardiomyopathy, craniosynostosis, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), tricuspid stenosis, bicuspid aortic valve, cleft mitral valve, and hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS). Other birth defects linked to the use of these drugs by pregnant women include a spina bifida, anencephaly, club foot, and omphalocele.