As many as one in four women suffers from some form of depression during pregnancy. Yet, considerable controversy surrounds the use of antidepressants by pregnant women. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant on the market, and include such drugs as Zoloft and Paxil. But recent studies, regulatory action, and lawsuits have alleged potentially harmful side effects when antidepressants are taken during pregnancy.
Antidepressants Linked to Birth Defects
Doctors have recently debated possible links between antidepressants and birth defects. Some medical research studies have linked SSRI antidepressants to an increased risk of birth defects in newborns. The most common defects include holes in the heart, lung problems, abdominal defects, skull defects, transposition of arteries, club feet, and spina bifida.
Other studies have cast doubt on whether antidepressants are the cause of these disorders. Environmental factors such as high rates of smoking, alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes, and drug use among people suffering from depression may explain the higher rate of birth defects. Depression itself or genetic factors may play a role as well.
The Food and Drug Administration has sent mixed messages over the years. A December 2005 warning first noted that exposure to Paxil during the first trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of congenital heart defects. As a result, Paxil was reclassified as a riskier drug, and its warning label was modified to advise patients of this risk. A more cautious release followed in July 2006, when the FDA noted the need to balance the dangers of depression with the risks of birth defects in newborns. Finally, a 2011 FDA release backtracked on the 2006 advisory by casting doubt on the link between SSRI antidepressants and a particular birth defect affecting the lungs.
Lawsuits contending that SSRI antidepressants caused birth defects have followed. Drug companies can be sued when they fail to provide consumers with adequate warning about the risks associated with their products. Lawsuits against Paxil's manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline and Zoloft's manufacturer Pfizer allege that both companies failed to warn consumers about the risks of birth defects. So far, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against each manufacturer.
Antidepressants Linked to Autism in Children
Recent medical studies have linked antidepressant use by pregnant women to an increased risk of a child developing Autism Spectrum Disorder (autism). In recent years, doctors have diagnosed autism in increasing numbers. During the 1980s, 5 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism. Today 1 child in 88 is diagnosed with autism. This rise may be linked to the rise in the use of SSRI antidepressants, which came on the market in the early 1990s.
One Kaiser Permanente study found women using SSRI antidepressants were two to four times more likely to have a child with autism. A larger Swedish study followed up by finding a small link between antidepressant use by pregnant women and autism. Earlier studies on animals testing similar drugs found comparable results.
Balancing the Risks and Benefits
The risk involved with combining antidepressants and pregnancy is an ongoing area of research. Weighed against this risk, however, is the danger associated with untreated depression in pregnant women. Depression during pregnancy can cause its own problems, including an increased risk in preterm deliveries and more difficult pregnancies.
The medical community has adopted an approach that balances the need to treat depression with the uncertain link between antidepressants and birth defects. The Mayo Clinic advises pregnant women to consult with their doctor about continuing with antidepressants during pregnancy.
Talk to an Attorney about Your Claim
Women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy should speak with their doctor about the risks associated with antidepressants and pregnancy. If you or someone you know gave birth to a child with birth defects after using an antidepressant medication during pregnancy, consider contacting an attorney. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries or injuries to your child. Get a free claim evaluation from a product liability attorney to learn more about your legal options.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.