A recent study published in the British Journal of Medicine has investigated the connection between maternal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs (SSRIs) such as Zoloft®, Paxil®, Prozac®, Celexa®, and Lexapro® during pregnancy and the development of persistent pulmonary hypertension in the newborn. This study, published by Helle Kieler et al. corroborates earlier research that had established the connection between mother use of SSRIs during pregnancy and children being born with persistent pulmonary hypertension, such as that of Christina Chambers et al. (2006) published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) is a congenital (present at birth) heart condition in which the child does not adjust to breathing outside the womb. Before birth, an infant does not use his or her lungs, and blood simply bypasses the lungs. When the child takes his or her first breath though, a change in pressure in the lungs draws blood to the lungs and helps close passageways in the heart used in circulation before birth. In babies with PPHN, however, “these changes may not occur and the baby’s circulation returns back to the fetal system with blood directed away from the lungs.” When blood is not directed to the lungs, it cannot be oxygenated, and thus essentially induces a degree of suffocation in the newborn.
To evaluate whether or not maternal use of SSRI drugs during pregnancy was correlated with this birth defect, the Kieler team undertook a “population based cohort study using data from the national health registers” of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Of the 11,014 women found to have used SSRIs after the 20th gestational week, 33 infants were born with PPHN. While this may seem like a small number of cases given the number of women who used SSRIs late in pregnancy, it is not.
Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn is a very rare condition, normally affecting about 12 in 10,000 infants. Kieler’s findings show that when mothers use SSRIs late during pregnancy, the risk for PPHN is doubled. Sadly, it is stated at the conclusion of Kieler’s piece that “Around 15% of infants with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn will die.”
Kieler also evaluated the relative danger of different SSRI drugs and found that while some SSRIs were more dangerous than others, all SSRIs tested significantly raised the risk of bearing children with PPHN:
Fluoxetine (Prozac®) was found to make children 2 times as likely to be born with PPHN.
Citalopram (Celexa®) was found to make children 2.3 times as likely to be born with PPHN.
Paroxetine (Paxil®) was found to make children 2.8 times as likely to be born with PPHN.
Sertraline (Zoloft®) was found to make children 2.3 times as likely to be born with PPHN.
Any steps one can take to lower the chance of inducing birth defects should be taken. If you use SSRIs and have become pregnant, speak with your doctor before stopping SSRI medications, as adverse side-effects may occur.
Due to the fact that none of the labeling of these SSRIs includes any warning regarding PPHN, mothers around the country and across the globe are unknowingly placing their unborn children at risk of serious health conditions, including PPHN and others. Because of this, a number of SSRI lawsuits are currently being filed for injury caused to unborn children by these drugs. If you or a loved one used SSRIs during pregnancy and your child was born with PPHN or another defect, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm for a free consultation.
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 “Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension” Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters Health System © 2013 Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters available at <http://www.chkd.com/g/content.aspx?pageid=P02400> reviewed 6 August 2011, accessed 21 January 2013
 Kieler, H., et al. (2011) “Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors during pregnancy and risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension in the newborn: population based cohort study from the five Nordic countries” British Medical Journal Vol. 344:d8012