The Link Between Birth Defects And SSRI Medications

by Terry Bryant

It took more than a decade for researchers to discover the link between birth defects and SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medications, but it is now clear that these drugs are hazardous for pregnant women. In fact, one of the most-popular antidepressants ever created, Paxil, has been placed in Pregnancy Category D by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), confirming the worst fears regarding the medication. Pregnant women have to choose between putting their unborn child at risk and putting off treatment until after the child’s birth.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors alter many processes in the body by manipulating the concentration of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. Many of these effects are unpredictable and difficult to track, but it is now clear that the link between birth defects and SSRI use is present. Multiple studies have shown this, including a Danish study in 2005 that discovered a much higher incidence rate of heart problems in children exposed to these drugs during the first trimester of pregnancy. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also demonstrated an increased risk of birth complications, but in the final trimester.

The link between birth defects and SSRI use is extremely severe, and many cases will end in early death of the child. Even when a child’s life is not in danger, they will require significant medical support to live a normal, healthy life. In some cases, loss of quality of life will be unavoidable even with medical treatment. Some of the most-common complications include major heart and lung problems, neural tube deformities, and cleft palate or lip.

Heart problems were found most often in children exposed to these medications, and they include Tetralogy of Fallot, under development of the heart’s chambers, and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Neural tube complications include omphalocele, craniosynostosis and anencephaly. Craniosynostosis and anencephaly often result in brain or organ damage and anencephaly is typically fatal soon after birth. Omphalocele is treatable but will require major surgery to correct. All of these conditions are expensive to treat and often come with a poor long-term prognosis for the child.