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Birth Defects Caused by Medications and Malpractice


Birth defects (also called congenital defects) are the leading cause of infant death in the United States. Even when not fatal, defects like malformed organs, spina bifida, heart defects, and cleft palate can result in a child suffering a life-time of pain and disability.

When a child is diagnosed with a birth defect, parents are left with a number of questions, including “why did this happen” and “could this have been prevented.” While some birth defects are unpreventable, others are caused by defective medications, chemical exposure, or medical malpractice. If you believe your child’s defects were caused by faulty medications, toxic products, or the negligence of another person, Thomas J. Henry can help you get the answers and justice you deserve.


According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

  • 150,000 babies are born with birth defects every year.
  • Roughly 3% of children born in the United States have a major malformation at birth, but more show developmental problems over time – 7% by 1 year of age and 14 percent by school age.
  • About 10% of birth defects can be traced back to a specific agent (environmental agent, drug, biologic, or notional factor) while 70% are of unknown organ; however, the General Accounting Office has found that a majority of experts believe that a quarter or more of untraced birth defects will be found to have been environmentally induced.
  • Every year, an estimate $1.5 billion in medical costs are the result of birth defects.
  • Comprehensive prenatal care could prevent up to 25 percent of all recorded birth defects. Unfortunately, 1.3 million women receive insufficient prenatal care each year.


  • Congenital heart defects (occurs 1 in 115 births)  Heart defects are the most common birth defect. Defects include:
    • Atrial and ventricular septal defects — Holes in the walls that separate the heart into its left and right sides.
    • Patent ductus arteriosus — Tubular channel that responsible for blood bypassing the lungs does not close after birth.
    • Aortic or pulmonary valve stenosis — Narrowing of the valves that allow blood flow from the heart to the lungs and other parts of the body.
    • Coarctation of the aorta — Narrowing of the aorta.
    • Transposition of the Great Arteries — Reversal of the connections of the aorta and the pulmonary artery within the heart.
    • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome The side of the heart that pumps blood to the body is underdeveloped or absent.
    • Tetralogy of Fallot — A combination of four heart defects that involve restriction in the flow of blood to the lungs.
  • Cleft lip and palate (1 in 700 births) — Cleft lips and palates occur when tissues of the mouth or lip do not form properly during fetal development. This can leave a split, division, or opening in that area. Cleft lip is a long division between the upper lip and nose. Cleft palate is an opening between the roof of the mouth and the nasal cavity.
  • Cerebral palsy (4 in 1,000 births) — Cerebral palsy often is not immediately identifiable and may take months to diagnose. Children with cerebral palsy have difficulty controlling their muscles – severity varies. While there is no cure of cerebral palsy, therapy can help improve quality of life.
  • Clubfoot (3 in 1,000 births) — Clubfoot describes a group of structural defects in the foot and ankle in which joints, muscles, blood vessels, and bones are malformed. Severity of these defects can range from mild to severe and may affect one or both feet. Clubfoot is twice as likely to occur in boys as girls. Treatment includes casting and surgical intervention.
  • Congenital hypothyroidism (1 in 3,000 births) — This is the underdevelopment or absence of the thyroid  which is essential in normal growth and brain development. If not diagnosed and treated immediately, the condition can result in intellectual disability.
  • Neural tube defects (NTD) (1 in 3,000 births) — NTD occurs in the first month of pregnancy while the brain and spinal cord are first forming. When the neural tube does not close completely, in can result in a number of defects. Most common are:
    • Spina bifida — The spinal column does not close completely around the spinal cord. Can result in loss of bladder and bowel function, paralysis, and death.
    • Anencephaly — Lack of development in parts of the brain
  • Gastrointestinal tract defects — Gastrointestinal tract defects involved the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, rectum, and anus. These include:
    • Esophageal atresia — Incomplete development of the esophagus.
    • Diaphragmatic hernia — A defect in the layer of muscle separating the chest from the abdomen that allows some of the abdominal organs to protrude up into the chest.
    • Pyloric stenosis — The muscular wall of the passage carrying food from the stomach to the small intestine is abnormally thick and the passage narrow, forcing food back out through the esophagus (vomiting).
    • Hirschsprung disease — A section of the large intestine is missing the nerves that control its contractions, resulting in severe constipation and sometimes bowel obstruction.
    • Gastroschisis and omphalocele — Defects in the abdominal wall that allow the intestine and other abdominal organs to protrude.
    • Anal atresia — Involves lack of or incomplete development of the anus, causing it to be absent or smaller than it should be, often with the opening in the wrong place.
    • Biliary atresia — The bile-carrying ducts in the liver either didn’t develop or developed abnormally.


  • Prescription drugs — includes common drugs like Paxil, ACE inhitors, Accutane, antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, Zofran, and Topamax.
  • Environmental toxin — includes pesticides and chemicals found in the water and air.
  • Toxic industrial chemicals — includes solvents, paint thinners, cleaning fluids, and engraving process materials.
  • Lead exposure — includes ammunition, radiation-blocking equipment, and metal alloys.
  • Medical malpractice — includes in adequate prenatal care, inappropriate prenatal advice, medical negligence, negligent misdiagnosis.


While not all birth defects are preventable, taking a proactive approach to your pregnancy can increase the probability of having a healthy baby and potentially reduce complications should a birth defect occur.

  1. Plan ahead. If you are thinking of having a baby, talk to your doctor. Many defects occur within the first trimester, so understanding your medical history and identifying potential risks prior to pregnancy is essential.
  2. Take folic acid. Taking folic acid before and during pregnancy can reduce certain nervous system-related defects by as much as 70%.
  3. Avoid alcohol. Medical consensus is that there is no safe amount of alcohol for a pregnant woman to consume. Avoiding all alcoholic beverages can reduce the risk of congenital birth defects as well as miscarriage, still birth, and stunted fetal growth.
  4. Avoid smoking. Smoking during pregnancy can result in cleft palate, premature birth, and low birth weight.
  5. Lead a healthy lifestyle. Healthier mothers tend to have healthier babies. Reducing stress and participating in pregnancy appropriate exercise can reduce the risk of birth defects as well as labor and delivery complications.
  6. Be aware of infections. Infections can spread to your baby resulting in hearing loss and mental disabilities. Good hygiene and eating well cooked meals can reduce your risk of infection.
  7. There are several important vaccines that doctors urge expecting mothers to get. These vaccines are meant to prevent serious infections that may harm your baby.
  8. Be careful with medications. Generally, medications are not advised during pregnancy unless they are absolutely necessary. Read product labels and ask your doctor which medications are considered safe for you and your baby.
  9. Get screenings and tests. There are a number of screenings and tests that can help detect potential risk factors. Further, if it is discovered that a birth defect is developing, early detection and treatment can mitigate the damage done.
  10. Rely on your partner and family. Having a support system can help you keep on track with your health commitments and can help you avoid stress.


According to a study published in Reproductive Toxicology in 2006, SSRI use by pregnant mothers is associated with an increased rate of miscarriages, birth defects, persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (breathing and lung function problems), heart problems, newborn behavioral syndrome, and the possibility of long-term behavioral problems.

Another study on SSRIs and birth defects, published in Prescrire International, found that “between 20% and 30% of newborns exposed to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants (SSRIs) towards the end of gestation have disorders such as agitation, abnormal muscle tone and suction, seizures and hyponatraemia.”

While doctors are still advising and prescribing antidepressants to many of their patients, these study findings have spurred a major increase in birth defect and antidepressant lawsuits.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressant drugs, are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. In fact when the United States Food and Drug Administration released the antidepressant Prozac in 1998, it was the most widely prescribed antidepressant on the market.

According to, SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin, a brain chemical which plays a key role in mood, is produced naturally by the body. SSRIs work by increasing the level of serotonin by blocking (inhibiting) the re-absorption (reuptake) of serotonin into the presynaptic cell.


Examples of SSRIs include:


  • Limb defects
  • Cleft lip and palate
  • Anal atresia (complete or partial closure of the anus)
  • Heart defects
  • PPHN (Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn)
  • Clubfoot (one or both feet turn downward and inward)
  • Craniosynostosis (skull defects)
  • Neural-tube Defects
  • Infant omphalocele (abdominal wall defects)


Thomas J. Henry has the experience and resources necessary to handle the most complex birth defect litigation. If you believe your child’s birth defects were caused by pharmaceutical drugs or by the negligence of a medical provider, contact our offices immediately for a free consultation. Our experienced child injury and medical malpractice lawyers are available 24/7, nights and weekends to evaluate your claim.



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