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SSRI Antidepressants Linked to Birth Defects

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Lauren Fernandez2 years ago

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed a link between the use of some SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy and birth defects.

About the Risk for Birth Defects

The CDC has seen a link between some antidepressants causing birth defects but not others, said the Washington Post.

Previous studies had shown an association between sertraline and 5 types of birth defects. However, the CDC study was unable to confirm any of them, which researchers found reassuring, said lead author of the study and epidemiologist in the birth defects branch of the CDC, Jennita Reefhuis.

Researchers found a higher incidence of anencephaly, a condition in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, as well as defects of the heart and abdominal wall, in children born to mothers who had taken paroxetine. Fluoxetine was associated with higher incidence of heart defects and craniosyntosis, a condition that affects one or more joints in a baby’s skull, reported the Washington Post.

Some limitations to the study were that researchers could not determine the dose of the antidepressants or why the mother was taking them, said Reefhuis. The researcher confirmed that a new CDC-funded study is underway that examines these factors more closely and looks at the most severe types of birth defects.

The research team acknowledges that many women may need to take medication during pregnancy and encourages close communication with healthcare providers during this time.

About the CDC Study

  • The Washington Post reports that the CDC analysis, published July 8, studied 17,952 mothers of children born with birth defects and 9,857 mothers of children born without birth defects between 1997 and 2009 at 10 different centers. 1,285 mothers reported taking SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, during the month before conception through the first trimester— the period believed to be most vulnerable for babies in utero.
  • Study participants most commonly used Zoloft (sertraline), followed by Paxil (paroxetine) and Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), and Lexapro (escitalopram).
  • Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States.
  • Jennita Reefhuis, lead author of the study and epidemiologist in the birth defects branch of the CDC, said that the associations in the study were clear but the risk appeared small. For example, the risk of anencephaly for babies born to women who took paroxetine would increase from 2 per 10,000 to 7 per 10,000.


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