According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 120,000 children born with birth defects every year in the United States. Of those children, approximately 6,000 fatalities occur, making this the leading cause of infant deaths. The severity of the abnormalities range from mild to severe, and can affect any part of the body. Not all abnormalities are physically evident; Detecting neurological disorders, heart problems, and hearing loss may take months or even years. The abnormality can have lifelong effects and potentially shorten the lifespan of the child.
The cause of birth defects is a complex combination of factors. Some factors include genetics, environment, and behavior. Unfortunately, the cause of most abnormalities goes undefined. However, the mother can possibly minimize potential risk by changing her environment and behavior.
Experts agree the mother should:
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and “street” drugs
- Improve health before conception
- Be aware of family genetics
- Talk to a healthcare provider about prescribed medications
- Take a doctor-approved prenatal vitamin
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the task of researching and documenting the safety of medications during pregnancy. Unfortunately, the FDA has only researched about 10 percent of medications and their effect on the unborn child.
Antidepressants are the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States. An estimated 23 percent of women in the childbearing age category take at least one antidepressant a day. Over 60 percent of women taking an antidepressant take it for over 2 years. There are numerous classes of antidepressants, and one popular class is Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, and Celexa are examples of popular SSRIs.
SSRIs are effective at treating depression because they affect neurotransmitters in the brain. SSRIs stabilize serotonin levels by blocking the natural reabsorption of serotonin. However, the embryo and fetus may suffer serious consequences. The most common complication to the newborn is Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension (PPHN), and the consequences may last a lifetime.
Accutane is a common skin cream used to treat cystic acne that has also been shown to cause serious abnormalities in utero. Accutane is effective, but it has the rarest medication classification of X. Experts do not understand why the high number of deformities and abnormalities are common, but they occur in more than one quarter of the births. The side effects to the child include a lower IQ, blindness, hearing impairment, and physical deformity.
Fluconazole is a powerful antifungal medication. It can treat yeast infections of the throat, mouth, and vagina. In addition, it is an effective drug in treating some cases of meningitis. The FDA classified Fluconazole as a Category D drug, so it has shown strong evidence of adverse effects to the developing fetus. Reported deformities include cleft palate, brachycephaly, aorta valve malformation, problematic bone growth, and facial abnormalities.
Only a small number of reported abnormalities or deformities result in death. However, serious birth defects often result in a lifetime of complications, medical bills, and ridicule. SSRIs, Fluconazole, and Accutane are three examples of harmful medications. A healthcare provider is responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of the mother and the developing fetus. Healthcare providers obtains information from the FDA on any potential side effects after extensive research. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or abnormality because of a medication or drug, consider speaking with an attorney to understand your rights. Birth defects may not always be avoidable, but there are some ways to minimize.