The antidepressants Prozac and Paxil are more likely to cause birth defects in babies born to women who use the drugs while pregnant than newer antidepressants in the same class, according to a study published recently in the British Medical Journal.
Prozac and Paxil are in a class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Makers of these medications face thousands of lawsuits from women who claim they were not warned that using the drugs while pregnant could cause birth defects, including a lung defect known as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), heart defects, neural tube defects, and malformations.
The study involved nearly 28,000 women who reported whether they took an SSRI during pregnancy and, if so, what brand. They were also asked when they took the medication – from one month before conception through the third month of pregnancy. Researchers then analyzed the data to determine which of those women delivered babies with birth defects.
They found that Prozac and Paxil were associated with birth defects, but the data suggested that other drugs in the class, such as Celexa, Lexapro and Zoloft, were less likely to cause birth defects.
Women who took Prozac or Paxil early in pregnancy were 2 to 3.5 times more likely to have a baby with birth defects compared to women who did not use those drugs while pregnant. Prozac, in particular, was associated with misshapen heads in newborns. Paxil was mostly associated with a defect in which the baby’s intestines protrude outside the body, and anencephaly, a neural tube defect in which the baby is missing parts of the brain and skull. Both Prozac and Paxil were linked to a heart defect.
Researchers say the study does not prove that Prozac and Paxil cause birth defects, just that data suggests there could be a link.