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SSRI Side Effects May Include Surgical Complications

Zoloft is a commonly prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), which is a type of antidepressant intended to treat anxiety disorders and depression. Zoloft has long been the subject of complaints that allege significant birth defects when used during pregnancy, but now, recent research suggests that the drug may also raise the risk of surgical complications. In this study, researchers examined the potential for SSRI side effects in patients who underwent various surgeries.

Complications can be life-threatening

The study was published on April 29, 2013 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Andrew D. Auerbach, the lead author, and his colleagues evaluated medical records from 534,416 patients in 375 hospitals in the U.S. All of the patients were 18 years old or older and underwent a major surgery between 2006 and 2008.

The results of the study revealed that patients taking Zoloft and other SSRIs were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within a month of the surgery. These patients were at an increased risk of life-threatening complications, including a 10 percent increased risk of excessive bleeding.

More research is needed to corroborate these results and to determine the cause behind these SSRI side effects. It is possible that Zoloft interferes with the body’s ability to effectively clot blood following the surgery, which is a problem that is commonly seen with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Although doctors currently recommend stopping blood-thinning medications like NSAIDs prior to surgery, no such recommendation is yet being made for SSRIs. Auerbach and his colleagues cautioned patients not to stop taking a prescribed medication without speaking to a doctor first.

Other side effects involve newborns

The increased risk of surgical complications is not the only side effect associated with Zoloft. When the drug is taken by a woman who is pregnant, the infant could develop significant birth defects, such as heart defects like ventricular septal defects (VSD) and atrial septal defects (ASD). These birth defects are more common when the drug is used during the first trimester. ASD and VSD both occur when the chambers of the infant’s heart develop holes, which can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Swelling of the feet and legs
  • Lung infections
  • Heart murmurs
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Fatigue
  • Blue tint to the nails, skin, and lips

Another possible birth defect associated with Zoloft is persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). This serious medical condition is characterized by restricted blood circulation to the lungs, which results in elevated blood pressure.

Other birth defects that have been associated with Zoloft include:

  • Omphalocele (severe hernia)
  • Craniosynostosis (premature closure of skull bones)
  • Premature birth
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Lawsuits filed over Zoloft and birth defects

Numerous lawsuits have been filed because of SSRI side effects, including against Pfizer, the manufacturer of Zoloft. In April 2012, federal Zoloft lawsuits were consolidated into a multidistrict litigation (MDL), which is proceeding in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The MDL streamlines the litigation process for complaints that share similarities, such as heart defects and other birth defects. Other plaintiffs have filed lawsuits related to birth defects that are proceeding in state courts.