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Expert Warns SSRI Side Effects Could Double Risk of Heart Defect

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The United KingdomAn expert with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in Britain has warned about the risk of SSRI side effects in infants exposed to the antidepressants prior to birth. According to the Daily Mail (6/24/13), Professor Stephen Pilling is so concerned about the risks that he has urged doctors not to prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for women of childbearing age who have only mild to moderate depression.

Pilling reportedly said that the SSRI antidepressants could as much as double the risk of having an infant with a birth defect if taken during pregnancy. The article notes that the risk of having a baby with a birth defect in the general population is around two in 100, whereas according to Pilling, taking an SSRI in early pregnancy increases that risk to approximately four in 100.

Based on that information, warning labels to the entire class of SSRI medications will be updated to reflect the risk across the entire class of medications. In an interview with the BBC (6/23/13), Pilling said that pregnant women who do not have severe depression and are taking an SSRI are taking an unnecessary risk. But he noted the risk extends beyond women who are pregnant to include those who could become pregnant.

In response to the BBC’s program, “The Truth about Pills and Pregnancy,” on which Pilling spoke, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) issued a statement that the BBC’s show overstated the risk of birth defects. According to the RCP, the risk of a birth defect when taking an SSRI is less than 1 in 100, and the risk in the general population is between 0.5 and 0.8 per 100.

Although some studies have suggested a link between the use of SSRIs while pregnant and a risk of birth defects, other studies have not shown such a link.

Some of the studies suggested a link between the use of SSRIs and having a baby with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). According to a study published in the Jornal de Pediatria (May/June 2013), PPHN is a challenge for physicians, with little known about the treatment or prevention.

“Despite recent technological advances and new physiopathological knowledge of this disease, mortality associated with PPHN remains at 10%,” researchers wrote.

In the US, lawsuits have been filed against the makers of a variety of SSRI antidepressants, alleging children were born with birth defects after being exposed to the medications while in the womb.


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