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Study Questions Safety of Antidepressants During Pregnancy

In recent years, clinical research has increasingly pointed to an association between the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy and the risk of birth defects, along with other complications. Now, a recent study has highlighted the potential danger of taking these types of drugs during the third trimester of pregnancy.

Effexor side effects were of particular concern, as this drug appears to pose the highest risk of postpartum hemorrhaging.

SSRI and Effexor side effects explored

The study, which was published in the British Medical Journal in August 2013, examined information from 106,000 women who were pregnant. All of the women were between 12 to 55 years of age and had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder. The researchers found that exactly when the women took the antidepressants played a significant factor in their risk of postpartum bleeding.  Twelve percent of the women in the group had current exposure to an SSRI, meaning that the drug was in their bloodstream at the time of their delivery. Those women had a four percent increase in their risk of bleeding.

In contrast, those with a current exposure to non-SSRI antidepressants had a 3.8 percent risk. Those without current exposure had a 2.8 percent risk. Effexor side effects displayed the most troubling results. Women who had taken Effexor had 1.9-fold increased risk.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are among the most frequently prescribed types of antidepressants. They are intended to treat moderate to severe depression and anxiety disorders. SSRIs work by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain to achieve a more favorable chemical balance. Specifically, they interfere with the reabsorption of serotonin, which is thought to improve the transmission of electrical signals in the brain in order to alleviate symptoms of depression.

However, even when SSRIs are taken as prescribed, a growing body of clinical research shows that they can be dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children. One of many potentially serious SSRI side effects, postpartum hemorrhage can sometimes be managed with medications and a uterine massage administered by the healthcare professional. However, in some cases, a dilation and curettage (D&C) may be required. If the bleeding fails to stop, the patient may require a hysterectomy or abdominal surgery. The recovery can be a long, arduous process.

Other studies highlight risk of septal heart defects

In addition to this recent study regarding postpartum bleeding, in September 2009 the British Medical Journal published a study regarding the risk of SSRI heart defects in newborns. The researchers examined clinical data from 1996 to 2003, which involved 500,000 births. They found that women who used SSRIs as prescribed had double the risk of giving birth to children with septal heart defects. This type of birth defect occurs due to improper formation of the wall between the two sides of the heart. This medical complication could necessitate surgery for a very young child.

Additional SSRI side effects in newborns

There are many different SSRI antidepressants that could be prescribed to pregnant women, including Zoloft, Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa, among many others. These SSRIs have been linked to a range of birth defects including cleft lip or cleft palate, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) and other heart defects.

Other possible Effexor side effects and complications from similar SSRIs that have been alleged by mothers include craniosynotosis, anencephaly, and respiratory distress. Some researchers have even suggested a possible link between antidepressants and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).