SSRI drugs linked to Birth Defects

Stueve Siegel Hanson is investigating SSRI and SNRI prescription drugs.  SSRIs and SNRIs are a class of prescription drugs used to treat, among other things, depression and work as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (or SSRIs) or serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (or SNRIs).

Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac are popular brand names for SSRI drugs.  Effexor, Pristiq and Cymbalta are popular brand names for SNRI drugs.

SNRI antidepressants are similar to SSRI antidepressants in that both increase levels of serotonin in the brain. SNRI medications are different from SSRIs in that SNRIs also affect the levels of norepinephrine in the patient's brain. Both serotonin and norepinephrine are thought to play an important part in a person's  mood.

In the body, serotonin regulates the gastrointestinal tract and blood vessel tone. In the brain and spinal cord it controls movement, pain perception and appetite and controls body functions.

Serotonin is released into the "synaptic cleft" (space) between two nerve cells. It binds to specific receptors on the receiving (post-synaptic) cell much like a key fits into a lock. About 10% of the serotonin that is released reaches the post-synaptic receptor sites; the other 90% is reabsorbed by the sending (pre-synaptic) cell using monamine transporters (substances that carry the serotonin back into the cell).

Simply put, SSRI medications prevent serotonin from being carried back into the originating cell; this allows the serotonin to accumulate in the synaptic cleft so that more of it reaches the postsynaptic cell.  

Depression and anxiety are thought to be caused by an inadequate amount of serotonin in the synaptic cleft; SSRI's help by increasing it.  SSRI medications are more widely used than SNRI medications, therefore the majority of research has been conducted on SSRIs. Because both affect serotonin levels, however, there is a possibility that SNRIs and SSRIs have similar side effects and similar risks.

Millions of Americans have been prescribed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs).  In fact, the American Medical Association reports that more than 40,000 pregnant women in the United States regularly take antidepressants. Unfortunately, the drug companies who sell antidepressants have done an inadequate job of educating doctors and mothers about the risks these drugs pose to a fetus. Consequently, thousands of babies have been born with congenital birth defects related to in utero exposure to antidepressants.

Since the first SSRI (Prozac) was approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the agency has issued several warnings about the drugs and birth defects. In 2005, the agency warned that studies have shown that infants born to women who had first trimester Paxil exposure had an increased risk of heart birth defects, primarily ventricular and atrial septal defects (VSDs and ASDs). In 2006, the FDA asked the manufacturers of several SSRI antidepressants to add information to their labels describing the potential risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) after a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found a six-fold increased risk of the disorder among infants born to mothers who took an antidepressant in the last trimester of pregnancy. Symptoms that may indicate PPHN include rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, bluish skin, heart murmurs and low blood oxygen.

PPHN is a very serious birth defect, and even with treatment a child suffering from PPHN may experience shock, heart failure, brain hemorrhage, seizures, kidney failure, organ damage and even death. Infants who survive PPHN may have long-term breathing difficulties, seizures, developmental disorders and hearing loss. Another study showed that mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy gave birth to children who experienced withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, tremors, gastrointestinal problems and sleep disturbances.  The SSRIs and similar SNRIs have also been linked to an increased risk of congenital malformations such as cleft lip, cleft palate and clubfoot, as well as dangerous heart defects, including left outflow tract heart defects.

The pain and health dangers caused by these drugs in children born to mothers who took the drugs, unaware of the danger, are profound. We are committed to holding the drug companies accountable for the insufficient warning to mothers and their health care providers about the risks associated with the drug.

If you or someone you know has had a child who suffered from birth defects caused by SSRIs Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft or Prozac or by the SNRIs Effexor, Pristiq or Cymbalta and wish to receive additional information about your legal options, please call 1-888-756-6494 or fill out the form on this page.


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