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Antidepressants and Pregnancy: Risks and Injuries

As many as one in four women suffers from depression during pregnancy. Yet, considerable controversy surrounds the use of antidepressants by pregnant women. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants. These include Zoloft and Paxil. But, some studies show that antidepressants may have harmful side effects for pregnant women.

This section will discuss the debate over whether antidepressants cause congenital disabilities. It will also highlight the prescription medications that are more likely to cause issues for pregnant women and their babies. Finally, it will explain what to do if you believe these drugs injured you or your baby.

Antidepressants Linked to Birth Defects

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than 21 million Americans suffer from depression. This includes pregnant women.

One of the most common treatments for those with depression is prescription drugs. Unfortunately, not only can these medications have side effects, but they may also cause congenital disabilities.

Although there may be risks for pregnant patients who take antidepressants, it's important to talk to your doctor before you change your medications.

Do Antidepressants Cause Birth Defects?

There is much debate over whether antidepressants cause congenital disabilities. There is evidence that some of these drugs may cause adverse health issues for your child at birth.

Some potential risks include the following:

  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)
  • Septal defects such as cleft palate/cleft lip
  • Preterm birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Congenital malformations
  • Other abnormalities and disabilities

When your baby is born, your doctor and other healthcare professionals will check for any issues with your child. Tell your doctor during your early pregnancy if you suffer from severe depression, major depression, or other mood disorders. This way, they can consult with your primary doctors and psychiatrist to ensure everybody is on the same page with their treatment plan.

Antidepressant Types Linked to Birth Problems

Some medications are more likely to cause congenital disabilities than others. For example, studies have shown that venlafaxine may cause more problems than any other depression medication.

Some of the antidepressants that you may want to avoid during pregnancy include the following:

  • Paroxetine
  • Prozac
  • Citalopram
  • Fluoxetine
  • Sertraline

There is some evidence that the following may not increase the chances of a miscarriage or congenital disabilities:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI),
  • SSerotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

The odds of your child being born with adverse health issues depend on many factors, including whether you took antidepressants during pregnancy. Talk to a specialist if your medication may be dangerous for you and your unborn baby.

Even if you are confident your antidepressant caused congenital disabilities in your child, it's challenging to prove. The drug manufacturer will argue that some other risk factor caused the problem. For example, they may claim that something like obesity, smoking, or drinking alcohol caused the issues with your baby.

It's a good idea to meet with a product liability lawyer before you make any final decisions.

What Does the Research Say?

Doctors have recently debated possible links between antidepressants and congenital disabilities. Some medical research studies have linked the use of SSRI antidepressants to an increased risk of congenital disabilities in newborns.

Other studies have cast doubt on whether antidepressants cause these disorders. Environmental factors such as high smoking rates, alcohol consumption, hypertension, diabetes, and drug use among people suffering from depression may explain the higher rate of congenital disabilities. 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, the FDA reclassified Paxil as a riskier drug, and the manufacturers modified the warning label.

The FDA issued a more cautious release in July 2006. The FDA noted the need to balance the dangers of depression with the risks of congenital disabilities in newborns. A 2011 FDA release backtracked the 2006 advisory by casting doubt on the link between SSRI antidepressants and a congenital disability affecting the lungs.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clarified previous findings. The CDC found that while some antidepressants might increase the risk of certain birth defects, other underlying conditions might be the actual cause.

Lawsuits contending that SSRI antidepressants caused congenital disabilities followed. Drug companies can be liable when they fail to warn consumers 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 congenital disabilities. So far, hundreds of people have filed lawsuits against each manufacturer.

Have Antidepressant Birth Claims Succeeded?

It's hard to say how successful congenital disability claims against antidepression drug manufacturers have been. Every case is unique, and so is every pregnant woman. One can't ignore the prevalence of congenital disabilities and other pregnancy issues among women who use antidepressants. Still, your attorney must prove that your antidepressant treatment was the direct and proximate cause of your child's congenital disabilities.

Many manufacturers include disclaimers with their medications. They may argue that you assumed the risk of having a child with congenital disabilities when you chose to take the drug.

One thing your attorney will do is refer to cohort studies and meta-analyses that show a causal link between antidepressant drugs and congenital disabilities. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Jama, and the BMJ have published many reports that these drugs may adversely affect pregnant women and their babies. Several psychiatry journals say the same thing.

Many of the lawsuits against drug manufacturers have settled out of court. The judges have dismissed many of these cases before trial. Be realistic about your chances of recovering damages. When you first meet with your personal injury lawyer, they can give you a better idea of what to expect from your case.

Are Antidepressant Drugs Worth the Risk?

The risk of combining antidepressants and pregnancy is an ongoing area of research. Weighed against this risk is the danger associated with untreated depression in pregnant women.

Depression during pregnancy can cause issues, including an increased risk of preterm deliveries, more complicated pregnancies, and a higher risk of postpartum depression.

The medical community has adopted an approach that balances the need to treat depression with the uncertain link between antidepressants and congenital disabilities. Pregnant women should 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 obstetrics doctors about the risks associated with antidepressants and pregnancy.

If you or someone you know gave birth to a child with congenital disabilities 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 claim evaluation from a product liability attorney to learn more about your legal options.

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