Heart defects in newborns and SSRI use have been linked together for years now, but nearly 100,000 pregnant women are still prescribed antidepressants annually, so the problem isn’t going away. Cardiovascular complications are among the most common in newborns, and they can have a major impact on a child’s quality of life. Researchers believe there should be more reviews of various antidepressants and how they affect pregnancy, but the early returns are troubling.

WHAT IS THE CURRENT RESEARCH INTO HEART DEFECTS AND SSRI USE?

For decades, the belief was that pregnancy hormones could prevent depression, but it’s now clear that this belief had no merit. As a result, antidepressant use in pregnant women has climbed dramatically in recent years, but not all drugs are considered completely safe. In 2009, the British Medical Journal published a study that followed pregnant women taking more than one antidepressant. What the study found was that these women were four times more likely to give birth to a child with septal complications. Septal issues are holes and weakness in the tissue that separates the heart’s chambers, greatly increasing the risk of hypertension and making it difficult for the body to oxygenate the blood properly. The British Medical Journal determined that the worst risk was tied to Celexa (or citalopram) and Zoloft (or sertraline).

These findings were echoed in 2011 when a study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology determined that antidepressant use during the first trimester doubled the risk of septal complications and quadrupled the risk of some ventricular outflow complications. An outflow complication usually refers to an inability to pump blood efficiently through the pulmonic or aortic valve, causing a buildup of pressure in parts of the cardiovascular system.

These findings, along with a 2005 Danish study that also demonstrated a link between heart defects and SSRI use, has prompted the FDA to assign most antidepressants in this drug category to Pregnancy Category C.  Medications placed in Pregnancy Category C are drugs that have been shown to cause complications in animal fetuses, but the possibility of serious issues makes it impossible to test the medication in human children. In general, doctors regard medications in this class with caution and only prescribe them to women if it is absolutely necessary.

WHAT SHOULD A FAMILY DO IF THEY BELIEVE AN ANTIDEPRESSANT HAS HARMED THEIR CHILD?

Complications like ventricular problems and Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN) can make it difficult for a child to develop properly, and further cardiovascular issues are much more likely in these children. This can have a significant impact on a child’s life, and doctors who ignore the risks when prescribing medication must be held accountable when their decisions result in permanent problems for the child.

A personal injury attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice and drug injury cases can help a family seek justice for their child. With a proper settlement, they can help provide financial support for their medical treatment and for any future treatment that will be necessary to help them live as healthy a life as possible.