Four years before she became pregnant, Anna Wilson was prescribed the antidepressant Celexa (citalopram) to treat symptoms of anxiety. Her doctor told her that it would be OK to continue to take the medication even when she starting trying to get pregnant. The safety label for Celexa did not indicate the drug would be dangerous for unborn babies. Unfortunately, Anna would learn the hard way that developing fetuses are particularly vulnerable to ill effects from the drug.
Celexa is in a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Other drugs in this class include the brand names Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro and Prozac. Recent studies of drugs in this class have revealed the medication taken during pregnancy doubles the likelihood of a baby being born with a heart defect.
It was devastating news for Anna, who at 20-weeks gestation had an ultrasound scan that showed her son David had a serious heart problem that would need immediate surgery after he was born. Now 8 months old, David faces more surgeries and isn’t expected to live past 40 years of age.
“He’s got a lot of suffering ahead of him before anything else,” Anna said. “We know that’s a certainty and that’s pretty awful.”
SSRIs during pregnancy have also been blamed on other serious problems from high blood pressure in mothers to lung defects and malformations in babies. The medication has been linked to miscarriages, premature births and still births.
The studies are enough for health regulators in Europe to order stronger warnings about birth defects be added to the safety labels of SSRIs.
“The available evidence suggests that there is a risk associated with the SSRIs. We make a quite a lot of effort really to discourage women from smoking or drinking even small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy, and yet we’re perhaps not yet saying the same about antidepressant medication, which is going to be carrying similar – if not greater – risks,” said Stephen Pilling, expert adviser to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Source: 24 Medica