Many expectant mothers suffer from depression or anxiety and need medications to treat their conditions. Unfortunately, quite often they must decide whether it’s best to stop taking drugs such as Effexor to lower the risk of causing birth defects or stay on the treatment to avoid falling farther into the grip of the depression, which may lead to problems that puts both mother and infant in danger of other health issues.
Depression, Anxiety, and Expectant Mothers
Currently, 30 million Americans over the age of 12 are taking medications such as Zoloft, Paxil, and Effexpro to relieve or cure the crippling symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders. A significant number of these people are women who are pregnant.
Quite often, expectant moms have a hard choice to make. Either they stop taking the antidepressant and risk suffering from serious mental and physical complications such as withdrawal symptoms and suicidal urges, or stay on the medication and hope that their infant is born without drug-related birth defects.
Why Expectant Mothers Should Be Wary of Effexor
Venlafaxine, which is marketed under the brand name Effexor, is an antidepressant from the serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) family of drugs. It is the sixth most commonly prescribed antidepressant/anxiety disorder medication. It is primarily prescribed to treat major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, and other disorders which may accompany bouts of depression. Developed and introduced by Wyeth in the early 1990s, Effexor is currently made and marketed by Pfizer.
As with many antidepressant medications, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists Effexor in the pregnancy-related C-class drug list. Class C drugs have caused negative side effects on test animals that are given high doses during laboratory trials. Since there are ethical restrictions that forbid drug testing on human infants, any adverse effects of Effexor on babies can only be measured by direct medical observations and the incidence of birth defects or other injuries.
Additionally, antidepressants can cause a wide array of side effects in both the expectant mother and her baby. These effects often range from minor headaches to severe suicidal tendencies. The most common side effects pregnant women may experience include:
- Dry mouth
- Panic attacks
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Suicidal thoughts
- Serotonin syndrome
Effexor, Miscarriages, and Risks to Infants
Presently, there is only a small number of clinical studies of the effects of venlafaxine on pregnant women. However, a 2010 study published by the Canadian Medical Association suggests that Effexor use by expectant mothers doubles the chances of spontaneous abortions (miscarriages). As a result, Effexor should only be taken if it unquestionably needed for the mother’s well-being.
Although Effexor is classified as a SNRI antidepressant and not as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drug, its effects on the body are almost identical to those of Prozac and other SSRIs. As a result, babies born to mothers who were on venlafaxine during pregnancy are at high risk of developing birth defects.
The most common birth defects associated with Effexor and other Class C antidepressants include:
- Anencephaly (a fatal birth defect where parts of a baby’s skull, scalp, and brain are missing)
- Cleft lip
- Cleft palate
- Craniosynostosis (a deformity of the skull that hinders normal brain growth)
- Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)
- Heart defects
- Respiratory problems
- Omphalocele (a defect of the abdominal wall)
Who is Responsible if Effexor Causes Birth Defects?
Most doctors prescribe Effexor to patients who are pregnant or may become pregnant with some reluctance since it is a Class C drug per the FDA’s pregnancy drug category list. Many conscientious physicians counsel their patients on the possible negative effects of antidepressants on expectant mothers and/or their babies both during pregnancy and after birth. In situations where a woman is suffering from extreme depression, both the physician and the patient must choose between taking venlafaxine or coping with the emotional conditions without the medication.
Some doctors, in rare cases, prescribe antidepressants such as Effexor without paying attention to the FDA’s black box warning about possible birth defects. As a result, they do not give their pregnant patients any counseling about the increased risks of miscarriages or various birth defects or neonatal withdrawal symptoms that may result from taking Effexor during pregnancy. If your doctor prescribed venlafaxine without advising you of the known side effects and increased risk of birth defects, the doctor may be liable for damages.
Wyeth, the pharmaceutical company which developed Effexor in 1993, was bought by Pfizer in 2009. Several lawsuits have been filed against Wyeth and its corporate successor Pfizer in the United States over the past few years. The allegations state that Wyeth and Pfizer failed to warn physicians, pharmacists, and patients about the dangers of treating depression in pregnant women with Effexor, including the increased chances of spontaneous abortions or serious birth defects.
In these lawsuits, the companies that make Effexor knew or should have known about the possible risks caused by the SNRI medication, yet issued no warnings to health care professionals or the general public regarding those risks.