A new study published in yesterday’s British Medicine Journal has again linked the use of certain antidepressant medications by pregnant mothers to an increased risk of pulmonary hypertension in their babies. See the ABC news story here.
Pulmonary hypertension is a condition characterized by high blood pressure in the arteries near the lungs, and occurs when newborns are unable to adapt to breathing on their own. The condition can potentially lead to organ failure, brain damage and even death. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics 1 in 11 babies diagnosed with the condition will die from it.
The study indicates that women who take antidepressants from the group known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) during pregnancy are twice as likely to have their child develop hypertension, when compared to mothers who did not take these medications.
The FDA first warned about the risk in 2006 after a New England Journal of Medicine study suggested that mothers who took SSRI’s after their second trimester were six times more likely to have their child develop pulmonary hypertension. Just last month the FDA revised its initial warning saying that due to conflicting studies the agency could not reach a conclusion about a link between SSRI use by mothers and hypertension in babies. Hopefully the new study will reaffirm the agency’s confidence that they got it right the first time.
SSRI antidepressants have also been linked to serious and potentially fatal birth defects when taken during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Treating pregnant women who suffer from depression is a very tricky issue for physicians. While there are risks associated with nearly all forms of treatment, there are also considerable risks associated untreated depression. Most women will relapse back into depression if untreated during pregnancy, which poses significant risks to the well being of the both the unborn child and the mother.