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Study Finds Link between Paxil and Birth Defects

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Seattle, WAA new study has become the latest to suggest infants could be at a risk of so-called Paxil birth defects. Although studies on the risk of Paxil side effects in infants have returned conflicting results, the latest study appears to confirm concerns about Paxil heart defects in infants exposed to the antidepressant prior to birth.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal (01/12/12) and reported on by The New York Times (01/13/12). It suggests that taking selective serotonin reputake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy can double the risk of having a baby with persistent pulmonary hypertension. Researchers studied the birth records of 1.6 million births in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden from 1996 to 2007, and found that three in 1,000 births to women who used an SSRI during pregnancy resulted in persistent pulmonary hypertension. That is in comparison with approximately one case of persistent pulmonary hypertension per 1,000 births to women who did not use the antidepressants.

Researchers found that the risk was higher when the antidepressants were used late in pregnancy. They also found, however, that women who had a previous hospitalization for a psychiatric disorder but were not taking SSRIs during pregnancy had a slightly increased risk of delivering a baby with persistent pulmonary hypertension.

Even though the overall risk may seem low, persistent pulmonary hypertension is a serious, life-threatening condition in which the infant may not be able to breathe on his own, resulting in a lack of oxygen and possibly organ failure. Those that survive may face lifelong complications, multiple surgeries and extended hospital stays. The study's authors concluded that doctors should use caution when prescribing SSRIs to pregnant women.

In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning that some antidepressants could be linked to an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension. In 2011, however, the FDA revised that to state any conclusion about the link between SSRIs and pulmonary hypertension was premature.

The risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension must be weighed against the risk of untreated depression. Research suggests that women who have untreated depression during pregnancy run the risk of a pre-term delivery and delivering an infant with low birth weight.

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