Like many other antidepressant drugs, Effexor can cause severe side effects that range from profound mental disturbance to birth defects. The primary ingredient in this medication, venlafaxine, is known as a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or SNRI. It is similar in mechanism to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs, which people are usually more familiar with. Its unique chemistry means it can alter many systems in the body, so it is prescribed for a number of conditions, though some of these are off label and not officially recommended by the manufacturer.
Venlafaxine inhibits the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine neurotransmitters by neurons in the brain. Both of these neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating many systems in the body, including mood. By maintaining a high concentration of these substances, a person may experience elevated wellbeing. This makes it ideal for the treatment of depression, panic disorders, anxiety disorders and social phobia. It can also help patients who are comorbid for several of these conditions. Venlafaxine is also shown to be useful in reducing hot flashes. Off label, the drug may be prescribed to treat migraines or diabetic neuropathy, as it has shown some benefits in this area, though this is not officially supported. Venlafaxine also behaves differently depending on the dosage level. In higher doses (more than 300 milligrams a day) it can also alter the neurotransmission of dopamine, which itself can cause profound alterations in behavior and physiology.
Even though venlafaxine is one of the most popular antidepressants, Effexor may still cause side effects that are often permanent and possibly fatal. Among the most serious are Tardive dyskinesia (a motor disorder that is often permanent and debilitating), Steven-Johnsons Syndrome (a skin condition in which the epidermis separates from the dermis in large areas of the body), delirium, heart fibrillations, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Among antidepressant medications, venlafaxine is among the most likely to cause suicide ideation, so its usage must be monitored closely.
Many people who are filing lawsuits against the manufacturer (Wyeth) are doing so after having a child with major birth defects or complications. SSRIs and other antidepressant medications are more likely to result in birth defects, and venlafaxine can cause problems similar to these other drugs. These birth abnormalities include anencephaly (absence of large parts of the skull or brain), hypospadias (abnormal placement of the male urethral opening), cleft palate (missing mouth or lip tissue), club feet, reduced limb size, spina bifida (lower spine disorder in which vertebrae may be exposed through the skin), various heart defects, and gastroschisis (abdominal organs are found outside of the body instead of behind the abdominal wall). These Effexor side effects are often fatal, even in the best post-birth conditions. Children that survive their abnormalities at birth typically have difficulty maintaining a normal lifestyle.
Medical treatment for these conditions is almost always expensive, and ongoing treatment may last for the child’s entire life. Parents who find themselves in this situation should consider consulting with a drug injury attorney to discuss options for restitution. Several class action lawsuits have already been filed against the manufacturer, and compensation can help a family provide the best medical care for their child going forward.