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SSRI Antidepressants May Influence Fetal Head Development

Mar 6, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

A new study published this week online in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found a possible link between selective serotonin inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants and small fetal head growth, as well as preterm birth.  The study, conducted by researchers at Sophia Children's Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, is just the latest to provide evidence that using SSRI antidepressants, such as Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil and Zoloft, during pregnancy, can impact fetal development.

According to a report from HealthDay News, small head size in infants from birth to 4 weeks of age may be predictive of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders.

The Archives of General Psychiatry study involved data on the pregnancy outcomes of more than 7,000 women.  The majority of pregnant women in the study - 91 percent - had no or very mild symptoms of depression.  Another 7 percent had symptoms of depression but did not take SSRIs, and just over 1 percent were depressed and used SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy.

Those with depression were more likely to have children with smaller head size compared to those who did not have the disorder, regardless of their antidepressant use.  However, those who took SSRIs during their pregnancy tended to have children with smaller heads than those who had depression but received no SSRIs.  Children born to women with depression, but who were not exposed to SSRIs, tended to have smaller body size compared to the drug group.

"If the depression is untreated, it affected the whole body; but if the mother used SSRIs, the head growth of the fetus was affected," lead researcher Hanan El Marroun noted, according to HealthDay News. "This may mean that smaller head growth is not explained by depression, but by the SSRIs."

El Marroun also noted that the study's findings could indicate that an imbalance of serotonin in the brain is not good for the developing brain of the fetus.  However, she also cautioned that researchers still don't know exactly what this might mean for long-term development of these children.

The same study also found that children of mothers who used SSRIs were twice as likely to be born preterm.  Children of depressed mothers who did not use SSRIs were born slightly later than usual, by about 1 day, according to HealthDay News.

El Marroun speculated that doctors might be prescribing SSRIs too often, and pointed out that depression can often be treated without drugs.

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