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Antidepressants Linked to Heart Defects in Newborns


A recent research has indicated that women who take certain antidepressants in the first three months of pregnancy risk heart defects in newborns.

Septal heart defects which are malformations in the wall separating the right side of the heart from the left seemed to be more common among women taking antidepressants in the first trimester, Danish researchers found. SSRIs such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa and Lexapro, which belong to the class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most widely prescribed drugs for depression; millions of women take them during pregnancy

"A potential association with malformations must be considered in the choice of treatment of depression during pregnancy," said Dr. Lars Henning Pedersen, lead author and a research assistant in the department of epidemiology at Aarhus University in Denmark. However, "if our data is correct, the risk is low, which must be balanced against the potential substantial risk of under- or untreated depression during pregnancy."

Other experts agree. "Early exposure can increase the risk of heart defects, but the overall risk is still very, very small," added Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have issued warnings about possible birth defects associated with the use of the SSRI Paxil (paroxetine) by moms-to-be.

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In August, the American Psychiatric Association in collaboration with ACOG recommended that women with major depression who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant can start or continue with antidepressant drugs, while women who choose to stop taking the drugs should consider psychotherapy.

Since antidepressants are linked to heart defects in newborns Dr Wu suggested that

ideally women would want to work closely with a psychiatrist and ob/gyn when planning a pregnancy. "When you are suddenly pregnant, there's a lot of anxiety involved and other hormones, so it's probably not a good time at that point to try to go off medications, and it certainly should be supervised."

Patients who are relatively stable, on the other hand, could consider going off their medications for the first trimester, knowing that it will take four-to-six weeks for the drug effect to wear off and also knowing that the medications would be resumed at the first sign of a relapse, Wu said. What we know is antidepressants are linked to heart defects in newborns and more research needs to be done.

Materials from BBC and Atlanta Journal Constitution are used in this report.

Written by Tyler Woods Ph.D.
Tucson, Arizona
Exclusive to eMaxHealth