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Study Links SSRIs to Birth Defects; Are Effexor Side Effects Included?

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Boston, MANew research suggests that antidepressant use during pregnancy may increase the risk of serious side effects in infants, although whether that risk extends to Effexor side effects is not yet clear. Studies have suggested a risk of Effexor side effects in infants, including developmental delays, but it is not known if the recent study, which examined the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications on newborns, could be extended to Effexor.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (01/12/12), found that the use of SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy was associated with double the risk of having an infant with persistent pulmonary hypertension. Although in the general population, the risk of having an infant with persistent pulmonary hypertension is around 1 in 1,000, the study found that the risk doubled when SSRIs were used during pregnancy, especially when they were used early in pregnancy.

Effexor is not an SSRI antidepressant; it is an SNRI (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor) antidepressant. SSRI antidepressants affect serotonin levels in the brain, while SNRI medications affect the levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine. Although Effexor is likely to have similar side effects to its SSRI counterparts, it is not guaranteed that they would have identical risk profiles.

According to WebMD (01/12/12), other risk factors for persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) include maternal obesity, smoking and diabetes. Persistent pulmonary hypertension occurs when the infant does not adapt to breathing outside the womb. This can result in too little oxygen circulating in the infant's bloodstream, which can ultimately cause organ failure and brain damage. Approximately 10 percent of infants born with PPHN do not survive. Those who do survive may face multiple surgeries and extended hospital stays.

In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about the use of SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy, but later revised that warning. In December 2011, the agency stated that any conclusion about the link between SSRI use during pregnancy and the development of PPHN was "premature."

Even though there are risks to taking an antidepressant while pregnant, there are also potential risks to having untreated depression while pregnant. Those risks include delivering a baby with low birth weight and premature delivery.

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