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Study Questions Risk of Lexapro Birth Defects

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Santa Fe, NMAdding to the growing literature on Lexapro birth defects is a new study that questions whether Lexapro side effects include congenital heart malformations. The study, which actually examined the risks associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), contradicts previous studies that found a link between the use of SSRI medications while pregnant and a risk of congenital malformations.

The study was published in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal; 6/18/12) and involved analysis of women and their offspring included in the Danish Medical Birth Registry from 1997 through 2009, focusing on heart malformations. Researchers found more than 848,000 pregnancies, of which 4,183 involved exposure to an SSRI during the first trimester and 806 paused SSRI use during the pregnancy. Authors found that the risk of heart malformations were similar between those who used an SSRI throughout the first trimester and those who halted SSRI use.

The study's authors concluded that any link between SSRI use and heart malformation could be confounded by other factors, such as the mother's depression. There was, however, a slightly increased risk when the group that was exposed to any SSRI during pregnancy versus those who were not exposed at all. In the group exposed to an SSRI during the first trimester, 50 births per 1,000 resulted in a congenital malformation, compared with 35 births per 1,000 in the unexposed group.

Furthermore, the risk went up depending on which SSRI was being used. Citalopram (sold under the brand name Celexa) and sertraline (Zoloft) were associated with an increased risk of heart malformation. Researchers also noted that infants exposed to any SSRI had an increased risk of septal heart defects. Finally, although the study found no association between the use of escitalopram (the generic version of Lexapro) and heart defects, it did find an association between the use of any SSRI in the first trimester and an increased risk of craniosynostosis.

Researchers note that even though some of the risks are considered statistically significant, they result in a risk of approximately five cases for every 1,000 births.

Meanwhile, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (5/2/12) suggests that infants exposed to antidepressants prior to birth are more likely to be born prematurely while newborns that were exposed to an SSRI during the third trimester were at an increased risk of having a seizure.

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