A recent study has identified a link between the controversial antidepressant Effexor (generic: venlafaxine) and a severe congenital birth defect known as coarctation of the aorta. This defect occurs when the heart’s chief artery, the aorta, becomes overly narrow, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood and oxygen to the body. Signs and symptoms of Effexor-induced coarctation of the aorta may include high blood pressure, shortness of breath, nose bleeds, and cold feet or legs.
What’s the problem?
A new study conducted by a research team at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has attempted to determine whether the maternal use of Effexor can cause birth defects in babies exposed to the drug in the womb. The research, which was titled “Association between reported venlafaxine use in early pregnancy and birth defects, national birth defects prevention study, 1997-2007,” found statistically significant associations between Effexor exposure and coarctation of the aorta, as well as a number of other serious birth defects. The study adds to the growing body of evidence linking Effexor to severe congenital abnormalities.
Coarctation of the Aorta Overview
Coarctation of the aorta is a severe congenital birth defect that involves a narrowing of part of the aorta – the largest artery in the body, which originates from the left ventricle of the heart and extends down to the abdomen. The aorta’s chief duty is to carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the vessels that supply the body with blood and nutrients. If part of the aorta is narrowed, the heart has to work extra hard to pass blood through the artery. In mild cases of coarctation of the aorta, telltale symptoms may not manifest until the child has reached adolescence or even adulthood. In more severe cases, newborns will display symptoms shortly after birth.
Symptoms of Coarctation of the Aorta
Signs and symptoms of Effexor-induced coarctation of the aorta may include:
- Chest pain
- Cold feet or legs
- Dizziness or fainting
- Decreased ability to exercise
- Failure to thrive
- Leg cramps with exercise
- Poor growth
- Pounding headache
- Shortness of breath
Babies born with these symptoms will typically undergo surgery either right after birth or soon afterward. During surgery, the narrowed part of the aorta will be removed or opened. If the problem area is relatively small, the two free ends of the aorta may be reconnected (a procedure known as an end-to-end anastomosis). If the large section of the aorta is removed, a synthetic graft or one of the patient’s own arteries may be used to fill the gap. In other cases, doctors may try to stretch open the narrowed part of the aorta by using a balloon that is inflated in the blood vessel. This procedure is referred to as a balloon angioplasty.
Other Birth Defects Linked to Effexor
In addition to coarctation of the aorta, the new study linked Effexor to the following birth defects when taken by expecting mothers early on in the course of their pregnancies: