Antidepressant Poses Risk to Unborn Baby

This February 8, 2006 USA Today article starts off with a grave warning to pregnant women, "Women who take a common type of antidepressant during the second half of their pregnancy are about six times more likely to give birth to a baby with a rare but potentially fatal heart and lung condition."

The problems come from drugs called SSRI antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. The potential problem is a rare but serious situation called PPHN: persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Normally, the rate of PPHN is one or two per 1000 babies. The recent study shows the rate of this problem to rise to 1 in 100 in women taking these antidepressants late in their pregnancy. PPHN kills up to 20 percent of babies and half the survivors are left with serious abnormalities

The study, prompting the alarms, is published in the February 9, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Lead author on the study, Christina Chambers, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Departments of Pediatrics and Family and Preventive Medicine at UCSD noted that the risk of incidence of these problems are higher in women taking these antidepressants. She states, "Based on our findings, we estimate that six to twelve mothers per thousand who use an SSRI after 20 weeks' gestation, are likely to deliver a child with PPHN."

Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the office of new drugs at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research commented, "This appears to be a very well-conducted study and we find the results to be very concerning."

In an unrelated study published in the February 2, 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, it was determined that almost one-third of infants born to mothers using SSRI antidepressants at or near term experienced withdrawal symptoms known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS. In other words these infants are subject to withdrawal symptoms. This syndrome is characterized by high-pitched crying, tremors, and sleep disturbances. The authors of the study also note, "The long-term effects of prolonged exposure to SSRIs, particularly in neonates who develop severe symptoms, have yet to be determined."