Zoloft Frequently Causes Heart Defects in Babies: BMJ

Another study (this time in the BMJ) finds an increased risk in heart defects, the severity of the risk depending on which SSRI you took. I see no mention of Paxil, which is curious in and of itself. (See: Paxil more powerful teratogen than Cocaine, court documents from the first Paxil birth defect trial, and other related articles concerning this trial on the Seroxat Sufferers blog. By the way, thanks to Fiddy for embedding our @pledgie “Stop Preventable Infant Deaths and Birth Defects” link!)

Also they seem anxious to let other birth defects off the hook and to regard not using SSRIs as not getting treatment. That’s ridiculous considering antidepressants can barely be considered to work at all and that they can actually make you worse and induce violence. How well do they work when your baby dies because of them? Are you supposed to feel happy if you keep taking your drugs?

This study seems to indicate that “about two” babies per 250 women who took an SSRI were born with a heart defect. I assume (though I haven’t read the study yet) that nobody looked at the heart defects leading to abortions or that they were not thinking about the babies who had so many other defects that they died in utero or after birth from some sort of “syndrome.” Probably like in other studies they would have excluded those babies with genetic problems that were linked to heart defects and multiple other defects, without considering if the rate of genetic defects was higher in the SSRI exposed group. If you don’t count all the miscarried babies either and you try to look at each individual type of heart defect and birth defect separately you can pretend the risk is small. But if you group all the risks together the supposed benefit pales in comparison to the risk. We know that antidepressants usually work about as well as a placebo (about one third of people showing mild improvement). But we also know that one third of women who expose their babies to antidepressants have a baby who is born early or underweight, who has seizures, or who dies (“women who take SSRIs have an increased risk of giving birth to a fetus who dies, having a premature delivery, giving birth to an underweight baby, and delivering babies who experience seizures. According to the study almost one-third of women on SSRIs experienced at least one of the complications”). So think about all the risks you would be exposing your baby to and then ask yourself if that’s depressing.

According to just this study, on average about two out of every 250 women taking SSRIs had a baby with a heart defect, compared to about one out of 250 who did not take SSRIs. But the same study said that the risk was more than three times higher with Zoloft than the non-exposed group, more than doubled with Celexa, and almost five times higher with more than one SSRI.

“Sertraline more than tripled the risk, while citalopram more than doubled it. Using more than one SSRI nearly quintupled the risk of the heart defect.”

According to the drug label, 1/100 to 1/1000 is an “infrequent” event, and fewer than 1/1000 is a “rare” event. “Frequent” means it occurs in at least 1/100 patients or more.

Two out of 250 is the same as .8 people per 100, or .008. That’s pretty close to bordering on the drug companies’ version of “frequent.” It’s definitely not in the rare category. But with Sertraline (Zoloft) it would be .012 or 1.2 babies per 100 babies, well into the frequent reaction zone. This is just one study and it’s hard to say without having read the whole thing how they came up with their results or what type of heart defect they looked at. I will update more later as I have time to do more research.

To see reports to the FDA of birth defects and deaths with psychiatric drug exposure go here: http://www.cchrint.org/psychdrugdangers/MothersAct.html

See Dr. Tracy’s commentary on the drugawareness.org website here.


Antidepressants in pregnancy up heart defect risk

Fri Sep 25, 2009 9:58am EDT

By Anthony J. Brown, MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – If you take antidepressants such as fluoxetine (marketed as Prozac) early in your pregnancy, you may be doubling the risk that your newborn will be born with a heart defect, according to a new study.

However, the vast majority of children born to women who take such antidepressants – known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – do not have such defects, the researchers are quick to note.

Earlier studies have tied SSRIs during pregnancy to heart defects, but also to even more serious birth defects. According to the new study of nearly half a million children born in Denmark between 1996 and 2003, however, only heart defects are likely to be associated with the antidepressants, note co-author Dr. Lars Henning Pedersen, from Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues.

Along with fluoxetine, sertraline (marketed as Zoloft) and citalopram (marketed as Celexa) seemed to increase the risk more than others, as did using more than one antidepressant at a time, according to the report in the September 25th Online First issue of BMJ.

Overall, SSRI use in early pregnancy, defined as 28 days before to 112 days after conception, doubled the risk of a particular kind of heart defect involving a piece of tissue that separates parts of the heart.

Sertraline more than tripled the risk, while citalopram more than doubled it. Using more than one SSRI nearly quintupled the risk of the heart defect.

However, the number of children born with such defects was still quite small: For about every 250 pregnant women who did not take SSRIs, one infant was born with the defect, while about two were born with the defect for every 250 women who took one SSRI, and four for every 200 mothers who took more than one.

Pedersen told Reuters Health that the results surprised the team.

Still, in an accompanying editorial, Dr. Christina Chambers, from the University of California, San Diego, comments that doctors and patients “need to balance the small risks associated with SSRIs against those associated with undertreatment or no treatment.”

SOURCE: BMJ, online September 25, 2009.

11 thoughts on “Zoloft Frequently Causes Heart Defects in Babies: BMJ

  1. I was wondering if Zoloft would have any impact on the sperm of the father? My son was born with a heart defect and his father started taking sertraline just before we conceived him. I was just curious if it could effect genetics from just the sperm side? Forgive me if this sounds completely ignorant.

    1. I am so sorry about your son. How is he doing?

      To answer your question, antidepressants affect the sperm. Also, there are reports of harm coming from exposure via semen alone, probably meaning through unprotected intercourse, presumably absorbing into the woman’s body and getting to the baby.

      A good example is the chemotherapy situation, in which doctors tell patients not to have unprotected intercourse so as not to expose the wife of a man on chemo to the chemotherapy drugs through semen.

      Here’s an article about it:

      “The scientists examined the men’s sperm before treatment and after they had been taking the antidepressant for a month. Superficially, the sperm appeared healthy, New Scientist magazine reported. But closer examination using a sophisticated detection method called Tunel (Terminal deoxynucleotidyl
      transferase biotin-dUTP Nick End Labeling) which flags up broken strands of DNA, revealed a worrying picture.

      On average, the proportion of sperm cells containing fragmented DNA rose from 13.8% before taking paroxetine to 30.3%. Many experts regard a sperm DNA fragmentation level of 30% as “clinically significant”. In the space of just four weeks, therefore, the men’s sperm had suffered a degree of damage that potentially could impair fertility. ”

      Also see this on not only damaging sperm but causing infertility as well as sexual dysfunction:

      To read reports of babies harmed by psychiatric drugs as reported to the FDA since 2004, go here:

      To submit a report to the FDA, go here:

    2. my son was born with multiple heart defects-asd,vsd and coarctation of the aorta. His father had been on Paxil for over a year–I would like any information on whether this could have caused my son’s defects

      1. Hi Kimberly,

        Antidepressants can cause genetic mutations and damage sperm. It could have been from a damaged sperm, or a genetic mutation of the sperm, or if you were having unprotected intercourse with your husband during pregnancy you could have been exposed to Paxil from semen.


    1. Definitely- it is highly likely that the Zoloft caused it – the first trimester is when the baby’s organs are all developing. As for PPHN I think it is probably also related. I am so sorry to hear about that. Feel free to send me an email if you want to talk about it. amy@uniteforlife.org

  3. My 4 month old daughter is a twin she was born with vsd which is directly under the aortic valve and also the part of the heart that is suppose to close after birth is open as well. I took setraline for a couple of months during my pregnancy. The doctors say its a small hole and she has another echo at 8 months. The father also took setraline before I got pregnant could this have caused these heart defects and what are the odds of my daughter needing surgery?

    1. I don’t know the odds of her needing surgery but I would not be surprised if the Zoloft her father was on could have affected her development because the antidepressants damage sperm and cause genetic mutations.

  4. I want to warn everyone who is contemplating getting pregnant to absolutely stop taking Zoloft if you are. When I was trying to conceive in early 2011, I asked my doctors if I should stop taking Zoloft b/c of the risk of birth defects, and all of them gave me a resounding “no.” That the risks were not well known and the benefits out weighed the risk in most cases. I was told by my psychiatrist that the most that could happen would be my child could be born w/ a breathing issue that would clear up in the first two weeks after birth. So I kept taking it. I trusted these doctors.. Well the day I went to find out the sex of my baby, my life changed forever. The news I was having a boy was immediately over shadowed by the horror that he had serious heart problems. The ultrasound tech noticed I had only a two vessel umbilical cord and that prompted her to check his heart. Still, I was told to continue my Zoloft by all my doctors. Mind you, I was never so depressed that I was suicidal or anything like that. Anyway, after four more months of fetal echocardiograms and being told my son may not live to be born, may not survive after his cord was cut, and no one knew what to expect for his future, he was born in late march of 2012. He has 3 congenital heart defects and has been on heart failure medication twice a day nearly his entire life. We were told at 2 weeks old and for his first year of life, that he may require a heart transplant. He has left ventricular non compaction, ebstien’s anomaly, and a VSD ( a hole in his heart). He has what the docs call a “gallop” in his heart beat. On top of his absolutely terrifying heart defects, he was diagnosed a couple months ago with autism spectrum disorder (mild). Mild to whom I may ask.. I know there are kids that have it worse than him, but at 2 & a 1/2 he’s still not talking and we’ve been in and out of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and ABA therapy since he was 6 months old. I wouldn’t trade my beautiful, silly, sweet red headed boy for anything on this planet despite it all. However, the excruciating truth is, no one knows how long I will get to keep him. It kills me every moment of every day. I wanted to post my story as a strong warning. A plea, that not one more mother take this God forsaken pill while pregnant. Not for any “benefit” to the mother. Trust me, it will not out weigh the risks. Never let another child suffer for such a ridiculous reason ever again. I will tell you, you will never get over the guilt.

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