A new study published in the British Medical Journal has found that women who use selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) than non-users. SSRIs are a class of antidepressants that includes the drugs Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft and Lexapro.
PPHN is a circulatory condition caused by the failure of a fetal blood vessel—the ductus arteriosus—to close after deliver. This affects a baby’s ability to properly circulate oxygen into the bloodstream. Even though the child is breathing normally, not enough oxygen reaches the blood. Although treatable, children born with PPHN may be at risk of a number of serious and potentially fatal conditions.
Researchers in the study found that women who started used SSRI antidepressants after the 20th week of pregnancy were more than twice as likely to give birth to a child with PPHN. The study also found an increased risk of PPHN among women who used SSRIs before the eighth week of pregnancy.
Among the SSRI examined in the study, Zoloft carried the greatest risk of PPHN when taken early in pregnancy. Zoloft has also been linked to an increased risk of a number of serious heart defects, including septal defects and ventricular outflow tract obstruction defects such as hypoplastic right heart syndrome, pulmonary valve stenosis and Tetralogy of Fallot.