Antidepressant use in America is currently higher than it has ever been in the past. Somewhere around 13% of Americans take an antidepressant every day, a number that’s climbed over 400% since 1982. With so many people relying upon pharmaceutical assistance to maintain their mood, and with many of the antidepressants currently prescribed being fairly new, it’s no surprise that we’re still discovering new associated health risks that go hand in hand with their use.
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn
Also known as PPHN, is a serious, sometimes life-threatening complication that is defined when a newborn is unable to breathe on their own outside the womb. It is the result of high blood pressure, and it claims the lives of up to 20% of newborns afflicted.
Even in cases where infants survive, the repercussions of low blood oxygen can be profound and lifelong, ranging from developmental disorders to lung disease.
Back in 2006, the FDA recognized a potential association between SSRI antidepressants and instances of PPHN in newborns. They advised patients to avoid the use of these drugs during the last 90 or so days of gestation due to a perceived association with the deadly affliction.
A Change in Stance
Despite their clear 2006 warning, the FDA back peddled a bit in 2011, indicating that perhaps their original warning had been erroneous. That no clear association between the SSRI’s and PPHN was known, and that pregnant women should remain on their prior depression treatment regimen throughout their pregnancy.
This confusing change of stance prompted researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to do some more digging in a widespread study of their own to clarify.
In the largest study off its kind, which sampled almost 4 million pregnant women in 46 states, the colleagues gathered some statistics. Their results were fairly conclusive, given the broad statistical sampling, which was gathered by following women for the last 90 days of their pregnancy and their newborns for an additional 30 days.
Overall, there was an increased instance of PPHN among all antidepressant users, not just those using SSRI’s. However, those exposed to SSRI’s during the last 90 days of gestation had the highest instances. The rate of PPHN was 20.8:10,000 among totally unexposed newborns, 29.1:10,000 among those exposed to non-SSRI and 31.5:10,000 among those exposed to SSRI’s.
The bottom line is that there is an increased risk to fetal development when antidepressants are used during late pregnancy. However, this is a risk that must be assessed and evaluated with the risk of stopping/changing depression treatment.