Paxil and similar antidepressants have been linked to an increased risk of premature birth, a new study says. Premature birth is just one of the many risks posed by the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Paxil has been shown to increase the likelihood of heart-related birth defects when taken by women early in pregnancy, and all SSRIs increase the risk that a newborn will experience withdrawal symptoms when taken in the last trimester of pregnancy.
In addition to Paxil, other SSRIs include Prozac, Lexapro, Celexa, and Zoloft. SSRIs affect seratonin levels in the brain, a chemical neurotransmitter. Seratonin is produced in the brain on an ongoing basis and in response to pleasure-giving experiences, in a normally healthy system.
The new SSRI study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, involved about 200 pregnant women. About half of them suffered from depression, and half of those women took SSRIs throughout pregnancy. About 23 percent of those who took SSRIs throughout pregnancy gave birth to preterm babies. Only 6 percent of women who did not have depression and didn’t take SSRIs had preterm babies.
Premature birth is associated with many serious health problems, including learning disabilities, mental retardation, and cerebral palsy. However, depression itself has been linked with an increased risk of premature birth, and pregnant women who are experiencing depression should work with their doctors to determine if the risk of these drugs outweigh their benefits.
In addition to preterm birth, SSRIs are associated with other serious side effects. Paxil, for instance, has been shown to increase the risk of heart related birth defects. In fact, on two occasions in 2005 , the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requested that the labeling of Paxil be changed to include warnings on three studies that found an increase risk of birth defects. Most of the heart defects reported in these studies were atrial and ventricular septal defects (holes in the walls of the chambers of the heart). In general, these types of defects ranged in severity from those that were minor and resolved without treatment to those that caused serious symptoms and needed to be repaired surgically. That same year, the FDA also classified the birth defect risk as Category D (Positive Evidence of Fetal Risk).
Babies born to mothers who have taken antidepressants, including SSRIs such as Paxil, in the third trimester of pregnancy have suffered complications from withdrawal, including difficulties with breathing, turning blue, seizures, changing body temperature, feeding problems, vomiting, low blood sugar, floppiness, stiffness, tremor, shakiness, irritability or constant crying. In many of these cases, tube feeding, help with breathing and longer hospitalization was needed.