Paxil has been linked in recent studies to the development of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn in infants born to mothers who were administered Paxil during pregnancy.
Watch the FDA Video: SSRI Antidepressants Linked to Birth Defects
Paxil Linked to Lung Problems Including Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn
After trying to get pregnant for over two years, Susan Martin (name has been changed due to pending litigation) and her husband were thrilled to find out that they were expecting. But their joy quickly turned to sorrow. During a routine ultrasound, it was discovered that her unborn son had died in the womb. To her horror, it was speculated that her anti-depressant medication, Paxil, could be to blame for the death of her son.
Paxil (generically known as paroxetine) is used by thousands of people in the United States and millions worldwide, with sales reaching more than $1 billion annually. Paxil is classified as a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), working by allowing the serotonin levels in the brain to increase, improving the user’s mood, appetite, memory, and sleep behavior. It is usually prescribed to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In September of 2005, the warning label on Paxil was changed to include a warning on the risk of birth defects and the US Food and Drug Administration issued an alert to consumers and the healthcare community. The results of a recent study had indicated that taking Paxil during pregnancy led to an increased risk of birth defects in the newborns, more specifically defects affecting the heart and lungs. Since the findings, Paxil has been classified as a Category D drug by the FDA, meaning that it has been found to cause harm to human fetuses.
One risk linked to Paxil that the medical community is especially worried about is the increased risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN). Many organizations, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, are recommending women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to avoid taking Paxil due to the potential risk of PPHN. Experts estimate that there are hundreds of infants that were born with Paxil-related birth defects, such as PPHN, to mothers who have no idea that their anti-depressant medication could be to blame.
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn is a devastating affliction that affects the lungs of newborn infants. These infants are unable to breathe properly because of a lung defect which causes high pressure in their lung blood vessels, causing the blood vessels to become constricted and letting less oxygen into the blood. Making the transition from breathing inside the womb to breathing upon delivery is very difficult for these newborns and often causes respiratory failure. Even with the proper treatment, 20% of the babies do not survive and those that do can have a breathing problem that lasts for the rest of their lives.
The FDA has warned the medical community to carefully weigh the risks and side effects of prescribing or renewing prescriptions for Paxil for women during pregnancy. The fact that SSRI medications such as Paxil can be extremely difficult to stop due to the severe withdrawal symptoms also adds to the difficulty women face if they become pregnant while taking the drug. Studies have also found that almost 1/3 of babies born to mothers taking this type of drug showed symptoms of withdrawal themselves, with reactions such as tremors, high-pitched crying, and gastrointestinal problems. It is important that every consumer and healthcare professional be aware of the side effects and the risks to be able to choose a proper treatment and course of action.
Other Defects Linked to Antidepressants
In addition to PPHN, a number of other life-threatening birth defects have been associated with the use of antidepressants including:
- Atrial Septal Defects (ASD)
- Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD)
- Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
- Tricuspid Valve (Ebstein’s Anomaly)
- Mitral Valve Prolapse
- Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA)
- Transposition of the Great Vessels (TGV)
- Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)
- Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)
- Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS)
- Tricuspid Atresia
- Aortic Stenosis
- Pulmonary Atresia (PA)
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
- Coarctation of the Aorta
- Truncus Arteriosus
- Tricuspid Valve Stenosis
- Heart Murmur
- Pulmonary Stenosis
- Gastroschisis – abdominal wall defect
- Esophageal Stenosis
- Anal Atresia
- Spina Bifida