Paxil and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) used to treat depression are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. Unfortunately, new research confirms that SSRI use during pregnancy greatly increases the risk of women giving birth to children with catastrophic heart birth defects. Some of the most common congenital heart defects our product liability lawyers have seen include ventricular septal defects and atrial septal defects. These are life-threatening birth defects that have already led to hundreds of Paxil lawsuits and significant settlement agreements.
The new research, published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology medical journal, found that 31 of every 10,000 women taking the Paxil antidepressant during pregnancy gave birth to a child with right ventricular outflow tract defects. This particular heart defect obstructs blood flow from the right side of the heart to the rest of the body. Alarmingly, pregnant Paxil users are more than four times more likely to give birth to an infant with this heart defect than women who do not take Paxil.
Researchers also found that women who use Prozac during pregnancy are twice as likely to give birth to infants with isolated ventrical septal defects. Additionally, infants born to women who take any type of SSRI antidepressant while pregnant are more than twice as likely to suffer isolated ventrical septal defects. With millions of Americans using SSRI’s to treat depression nationwide, these statistics are troubling.
Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine warns that Paxil is linked to an increased risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN). This study showed that PPHN was approximately six times more common in infants whose mothers exposed them to SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy, compared to infants of mothers who did not use any type of antidepressant. In response, the FDA issued a safety alert about the increased risk of birth defects and required Paxil manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline to update the drug’s warning label.
Birth defects are not the only concern pregnant Paxil users need to be aware of. In June of 2011, researchers from Kaiser Permanente found that SSRI’s may be linked to autism. Out of a control group of more than 1,500 children, mothers who used an SSRI antidepressant while pregnant were twice as likely to give birth to a child with an autism spectrum disorder, especially if the drugs were taken during the first trimester.
The serious side effect risk associated with Paxil use during pregnancy has already sparked lawsuits from more than 800 families nationwide. These lawsuits have been filed on behalf of children who suffered PPHN and other health problems, alleging that the drug’s manufacturer failed to disclose information about the increased risk of congenital heart defects from Paxil during pregnancy. The lawsuits also claim that the drug maker purposely hid test results that would have revealed life-threatening Paxil side effects. In 2010, Glaxo reportedly agreed to settle hundreds of Paxil birth defect lawsuits.
Given the strong link between SSRI antidepressants and birth defects, pregnant mothers need to use extra caution. Researchers are now recommending doctors avoid prescribing Paxil to women who are pregnant, unless they do not respond to other treatments that may help to control their depression due to the serious risk of harm. Families who have already been harmed by Paxil use during pregnancy may be entitled to compensation for their pain, suffering, and increased medical expenses.