Spina Bifida (“myelomeningocele” being the most common form) is a birth defect in the larger class of “neural tube defects,” characterized by the malformation or underdevelopment of the neural tube in a developing infant before birth.  In spina bifida, “the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth”[1] as they normally would.

PubMed Health, a service of the United States National Library of Medicine, states “Normally, during the first month of a pregnancy, the two sides of the spine (or backbone) join together to cover the spinal cord, spinal nerves and meninges (the tissues covering the spinal cord).”[2]  In spina bifida, this does not happen, causing “the spinal cord and meninges (the tissues covering the spinal cord) to stick out of the child’s back.”[3]

Prozac Lawyer Celexa Lawyer SSRI Birth Defect Lawsuit SSRI Attorney - Spina Bifida

In the general population, spina bifida “may affect as many as 1 out of every 800 infants,”[4] but several risk factors that increase the chances of a baby being born with spina bifida have recently been established.  First, low levels of the vitamin folic acid in pregnant mothers are currently believed to place newborns at risk because of folic acid’s known role in the development of the brain and spinal cord.[5]  It is also believed that a virus may play a role in the incidence of spina bifida in newborns “since there is a higher rate of this condition in children born in the early winter months.”[6]  It has also recently been discovered that maternal use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant drugs during pregnancy can dramatically raise the risk of spina bifida in newborns.  The main SSRI linked to spina bifida is Celexa®, but use of other SSRI drugs such as Zoloft®, Paxil®, Prozac®, and Lexapro® may also place children at increased risk.


Signs of Spina Bifida

Signs that your child may be born with spina bifida are numerous.  Symptoms include “loss of bladder or bowel control,”[7] “partial or complete lack of sensation,”[8] “partial or complete paralysis of the legs,”[9] “weakness of the hips, legs, or feet of a newborn,”[10] “abnormal feet or legs, such as clubfoot,”[11] “build up of fluid inside the skull (hydrocephalus),”[12] “hair at the back part of the pelvis called the sacral area,”[13] and “dimpling of the sacral area.”[14]

Much of the time, a neurologist can test for spina bifida before birth with a blood test known as a “quadruple screen,”[15] which evaluates the newborn’s level of the protein “maternal alpha fetoprotein,”[16] as higher levels of maternal alpha fetoprotein are indicative of (but do not confirm) a spina bifida diagnosis.[17]  Confirmation of a spina bifida diagnosis before birth requires either pregnancy ultrasound or aminocentesis.[18]

After birth, a physician may see that a child has spina bifida though a neurologic examination, which “may show that the child has loss of nerve-related functions below the defect. For example, watching how the infant responds to pinpricks at various locations may reveal where he or she can feel the sensations.  Tests done on the baby after birth may include x-rays, ultrasound, CT, or MRI of the spinal area.”[19]


Complications of Spina Bifida

Though this list may not be all-inclusive, PubMed Health states that complications of spina bifida can include:

  • “Difficult delivery with problems resulting from a traumatic birth, including cerebral palsy and decreased oxygen to the brain
  • Frequent urinary tract infections
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Meningitis
  • Permanent weakness or paralysis of legs”[20]

Research Links Spina Bifida to Maternal Use of SSRI Antidepressants

A study from Finland published in a 2011 edition of Obstetrics and Gynecology has found a strong link between maternal use of SSRIs during pregnancy and spina bifida.  This study, published by Heli Malm, MD, Ph.D. et al. has found that infants born to mothers who used Celexa® during pregnancy were about 2.4 times more likely to be born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida than were children born to mothers who did not use SSRIs during pregnancy.[21]

Treatment for Spina Bifida

Usually, surgery early on in a child’s life is required to correct spina bifida because it is dangerous for the child to have its spinal cord partially exposed, unprotected by the spine.  Sadly, “most children will require lifelong treatment for problems that result from damage to the spinal cord and spinal nerves. This includes:

  • Gentle downward pressure over the bladder may help drain the bladder. In severe cases, drainage tubes, called catheters, may be needed. Bowel training programs and a high fiber diet may improve bowel function.
  • Orthopedic or physical therapy may be needed to treat musculoskeletal symptoms. Braces may be needed for muscle and joint problems.
  • Neurological losses are treated according to the type and severity of function loss.
  • Follow-up examinations generally continue throughout the child’s life. These are done to check the child’s developmental level and to treat any intellectual, neurological, or physical problems.
  • Visiting nurses, social services, support groups, and local agencies can provide emotional support and assist with the care of a child with a myelomeningocele who has significant problems or limitations.”[22]

We are here to help you

Due to the fact that the manufacturers of Celexa® and other dangerous SSRI drugs do not include anything about birth defects such as spina bifida on their warning labels in the face of clear evidence of their capacity to increase the risk for newborns being born with major birth defects, a number of Celexa® lawsuits and other SSRI birth defect lawsuits are currently being filed.  If you used an SSRI during pregnancy, unaware of the risks posed to your developing child, and your child was born with spina bifida or another birth defect, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm at (855) 452-5529 or by e-mail at justinian@dangerousdrugs.us for a free, no-obligation case consultation.

We have the experience, resources, and skills required to go up against even the largest of pharmaceutical companies and win the justice you and your family deserve.

[1] “Myelomeningocele – PubMed Health” PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. © 2012 A.D.A.M., Inc. Available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002525/> Accessed 4 February 2013

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Malm, H., et al. (2011) “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Risk for Major Congenital Anomalies” Obstetrics and Gynecology Vol. 118, Issue 1; pp. 111-120.

[22] “Myelomeningocele – PubMed Health” PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. © 2012 A.D.A.M., Inc. Available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002525/> Accessed 4 February 2013