An advisory from Health Canada is warning women who take antidepressants and are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant that the drugs can cause potentially life-threatening risks to their babies.
Various studies have already noted an increase in the risk of major birth defects among children exposed to SSRIs during pregnancy, including a recent preliminary study published in The New England Journal of Medicine which suggested the use of SSRIs during the second half of pregnancy could be associated with the life-threatening lung disorder called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.
The antidepressants in question are known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). They and other newer drugs prescribed for the treatment of depression include:
• Wellbutrin (bupropio)
• Celexa (citalopram)
• Cipralex (escitalopram)
• Prozac (fluoxetine)
• Luvox (fluvoxamine)
• Remeron (mirtazapine)
• Paxil (paroxetine)
• Zoloft (sertraline)
• Effexor (venlafaxine)
• Zyban (bupropion)
The advisory relating antidepressant use by pregnant women to birth complications and defects is not the first. In December 2005, Health Canada issued a warning that "suggested there may be a small increase in the risk of birth defects, including heart-related defects, in babies whose mothers were prescribed paroxetine in the first trimester of pregnancy, compared to other antidepressants."
The recent advisory notes that continued treatment of depression through the use SSRIs should only be continued if the benefits to the mother outweigh the risks to the unborn child, after considering viable treatment alternatives. It should be remembered that clinical depression is a serious condition with no quick-fix solutions, and the Health Canada advisory "stresses that patients should not stop taking SSRI medication without first consulting their doctors, as they could experience serious side effects."
With that in mind, some studies have suggested that folic acid, or folate, the B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects and heart disease, may also prevent depression. For more information, click here.