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Are Americans Risking Lexapro Birth Defects Needlessly?

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Houston, TXForest Laboratories' own exhaustive prescribing information on Lexapro (which includes a boxed warning for suicidal thoughts) admits there remains a lot of questions about Lexapro and pregnancy. "There are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women; therefore, escitalopram [Lexapro] should be used during pregnancy only if the potential benefit justifies the potential risk to the fetus." That risk includes the potential for Lexapro birth defects that could stay with a child through his entire adult life.

And that's not the only concern over Lexapro. A check on the prescribing information reveals that Lexapro should not be used in association with alcohol, a widely used and enjoyed part of the social interaction fabric in the US. There is also concern over the potential for reduced motor skills. Thus, it may not be wise for Lexapro patients to operate heavy machinery while on Lexapro.

In other words, it may not be wise to drive a car—something that would carry serious mobility issues for a lot of people.

Many a Lexapro lawsuit cites newborn birth defects as the foundation for such legal action. Plaintiffs claim that a risk for such defects, including Lexapro PPH (persistent pulmonary hypertension) was not fully explained to them.

And while the debate rages as to whether or not it is wise for an expectant mother being treated for depression to stop taking a drug like Lexapro, health advocates continue to speculate if women of child-bearing age are often prescribed SSRI antidepressants such as Lexapro needlessly.

The Daily Gleaner (7/17/12) carried a Reuters report that speculates over 'The Age of Anxiety,' an investigative essay that reveals anxiety disorders have soared more than 12-fold over the past three decades.

There is little doubt that women suffering from real depression have more treatment options at their disposal today, than any generation previously. But some suggest that the simple anxiety that often comes with everyday life is being patted down with an antidepressant such as Lexapro, without justification.

The Gleaner told the story of Marla Royce (not her real name) who, while suffering from anxiety, realized there was a reason for it: the death of her father, combined with worry that set in after the successful novelist's publisher decided not to promote her latest work. While she speculated over whether, or not her writing career may have gone south, in reality "it was just garden-variety situational anxiety," Royce says now, in comments published in The Gleaner.

Nonetheless, her family doctor diagnosed her with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and she was quickly put on Lexapro. "[My doctor] said the pharma sales rep had just left some samples [of Lexapro]…"

A psychiatrist added to her Lexapro three other anti-psychotic drugs, to which she became dependent and began taking ever-higher doses. Her psychiatrist subsequently told Royce her dependence on drugs such as Lexapro (and the Lexapro side effects that went along with it) "was proof my anxiety disorder was out of control and that I would have to be medicated for life."

That all changed five years ago when she fought her way off the meds with the help of a support group. She takes nothing now, and has learned her occasional bouts with anxiety is both normal and controllable.

Last year, according to IMS health, drug manufacturers reported $661 million worth of sales in the US alone for anti-anxiety drugs, which are a form of antidepressants. There are no such reports of adverse reactions such as Lexapro birth defects during that time. While patients who suffer from serious depression are buoyed by the benefits of SSRI drugs such as Lexapro, the debate over whether it's better or worse for an expectant mother to wean herself off a drug like Lexapro in order to minimize newborn birth defects continues to rage.

Beyond that are the health advocates who feel Americans are being over-medicated needlessly. The potential for birth defects such as Lexapro PPHN in such a scenario, is even more tragic. Canadian midwife Deborah Harding, of Sage Midwifery located in Surrey, British Columbia, said in comments published in the Prince George Citizen (6/7/12) that there are still too many women taking antidepressant needlessly, who could make it without them if they had support from their families and communities.

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