SSRI Birth Defects” The Only High Risk Factor I had Was Being on Effexor”
January 15, 2009. By Lucy Campbell
Regina, SA : Pam was told by both her family doctor and her obstetrician that the antidepressant she was taking, namely effexor, was safe for her to continue taking through her pregnancy. But within hours of her son being born, he had been admitted to the natal intensive care unit, suffering from seizures and breathing difficulties.
“My son had a smooth delivery but within 5 hours of being born he began to have agitation seizures and trouble breathing,” Pam said. “I was told he was showing withdrawal symptoms. He was put into neo natal intensive care for 10 days. He was suffering from tremors and having difficulty getting enough oxygen. They had him on different stabilizing medications and oxygen and continued to monitor him, and he had another seizure 5 days later. He came home 10 days later.
Shortly after we brought our son home we noticed early symptoms of cerebral palsy – he was not able to raise his head, and there were other tell-tale signs. A year later he was actually diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He’s now three-and-a- half and he’s in a wheelchair, he can’t hold a crayon to draw, or speak properly. The only high risk factor I had was being on the effexor.”
Pam was taking half the regular daily maintenance dose of effexor (also called venlafaxine) during her pregnancy. “I was told the risks were minimal – that the baby may have short term effects like tremors and withdrawal symptoms,” Pam said. “Since his birth, I’ve done a lot of reading and it seems that seizures do occur, although it’s rare. But I was never told that.”
SSRI Birth Defects
Pam was pregnant and saw a specialist in 2004, and gave birth in April 2005. But it wasn’t until December 2005 that the first public warnings emerged from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the potential for serious heart defects in babies born to women taking selective serotonin uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants during pregnancy. Most recently, a study published in the November 2008 issue of the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology reported a 3 times greater risk for heart defects in babies born to mothers taking either Prozac (fluoxetine) or Paxil.
While the potential for infant heart defects are the primary cause of concern with SSRI use during pregnancy, they are not the only potential birth defect. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who took SSRI antidepressants in their third trimester delivered babies who were 6 times more likely to have primary pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), or developing a lung disorder, than babies not exposed to SSRIs. And there are also reports of abdominal birth defects, cranial birth defects, club foot, neural tube defects, and Anal Atresia, a congenital malformation of the anus.
“I’m sure that effexor is something pregnant ladies should not be on unless it’s really, really necessary,” Pam said. “I’m kind of angry that I wasn’t warned that the risks were in fact higher than I was led to believe: I would have stopped using the antidepressant. I really think more women need to know about this. I don’t know how many women may be affected – but even the woman in the hospital bed next to me, when I had my son, was on an antidepressant.”