More evidence supports the theory that exposure to a class of antidepressants during the first trimester of pregnancy increases the risk for major congenital anomalies, particularly cardiac defects. A Finnish study conducted by the Teratology Information Service at the Helsinki University Central Hospital confirms the results of other research showing increased risks for specific birth defects in fetuses exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, during gestation.
SSRIs are among the most prescribed medications in the United States and are the most poplar antidepressants prescribed in recent years. Little data was available to determine the risks on fetuses, thus many women were under the assumption that the drugs were safe. However, studies began to question that safety record.
Most of the concern focused on paroxetine, known by the brand name Paxil. Earlier studies resulted in Paxil being downgraded to a Category D pregnancy drug, meaning studies have shown the drug can cause birth defects if used during pregnancy.
The latest study suggests other SSRIs, including Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and Prozac, may be just as dangerous to developing fetuses. Researchers reviewed data from nationwide birth registries covering 11 years. The cohort included 635,583 babies, of whom 6,976 were exposed to SSRIs during the first trimester. The data showed that babies exposed to SSRIs were at greater risk for major cardiovascular anomalies than babies who were not exposed to SSRIs during gestation.
Specific defects linked to SSRI exposure include ventricular septal defects and right ventricular outflow tract defects. There was also a risk for neural tube defects.
The study also found that fetal alcohol syndrome disorders were nearly 10 times mere common in SSRI-exposed babies than in unexposed children. Therefore, the researchers advised, special attention should be given to alcohol use in pregnant women who use SSRIs.