- According to a recent study, women who take antidepressants put their babies at risk for developing neonatal pulmonary hypertension.
Some of the popular antidepressants used during pregnancy may raise the risk of a rare but serious lung condition in newborns, according to a new report. In this study, researchers analyzed the data of almost 1.6 million births in five Nordic countries available at the national registry. The objective of the study was to determine whether the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants during pregnancy increases the risk of neonatal pulmonary hypertension. SSRIs are very popular antidepressants taken by pregnant women in the US. Neonatal pulmonary hypertension is a very serious life-threatening condition, which normally occurs at a small rate of two births in 1,000.
Persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN) is a lethal condition noted in newborns in which the arteries carrying blood to the lungs remain constricted after birth, limiting the supply of blood and oxygen to this organ. Maternal obesity, diabetes, and smoking are the major risk factors of PPHN and about 5% to 10% of babies die due to this condition.
One of the earlier studies conducted in 2006 found an association between the use of SSRI during pregnancy and neonatal pulmonary hypertension. The use of antidepressants resulted in a six fold increase in the incidence of this lung disorder in babies, especially when the exposure to the drug is during the last months of pregnancy. Many studies were conducted with the same objective and gave contradictory results. Some of the studies showed an association between the use of antidepressants and an increased risk of this lung condition, while others could not find any link between the two.
In the recent study conducted by the researchers at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, birth registry data of all the babies born between 1996 and 2007 in the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, was analyzed. A total of 30,000 women used antidepressants during pregnancy and about 11,000 of them had it in their fifth month of pregnancy or later. Results show that there were 33 babies born with persistent pulmonary hypertension whose mothers took SSRI’s during the later months of pregnancy, which accounts to three cases per 1,000 births. This number is about double of what would have been expected in the general population. Babies born to mothers who were previously hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder who were not taking SSRI’s during pregnancy also had an increase in the risk of this lung disorder.
Gideon Koren, MD, of Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, feels that the study has raised many questions. This is one of the largest studies to evaluate the association between SSRIs and PPHN. The results that show that women with untreated depression had a higher risk of developing this condition raises further doubt. According to him, this is not a reason to stop many pregnant women from taking antidepressants, as it is important for both the developing baby and the mother.
Clinical psychiatrist Alan Manevitz, MD, of New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital, also agrees to this fact that depression is very dangerous for pregnant mothers and their babies. He suggests that women who are pregnant can try out the various non-drug treatments that are available. He also adds that women who have depression should take it seriously and should never stop taking the drugs without discussing it with a doctor.