Many women gripped by depression while expecting a baby are caught up in a difficult predicament. They can follow a doctor’s advice and take antidepressants to treat their condition even though the medications raise the chances of having a baby with a birth defect. They can also disregard the physician’s advice and forego taking antidepressants such as Paxil and leave the depression untreated with the hope that they don’t harm themselves or the baby.
Depression During Pregnancy
Unfortunately, in a time marked by economic difficulty and societal stress, depression is all too common. One out of 10 Americans are taking antidepressants such as Zoloft, Lexapro, and Paxil. This large segment of the population includes women who are pregnant and suffer from depression. In many cases, these mothers-to-be have to choose the lesser of two evils: Left untreated, depression can lead to other serious issues, including miscarriage and heightened thoughts of suicide . At the same time, taking antidepressants during gestation increases the risks that the baby will be born with a serious birth defect.
Why Expectant Mothers Should Avoid Paxil
Paxil (paroxetine chloride) is the fourth most commonly prescribed drugs to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other mental health conditions. Like Zoloft and Lexapro, Paxil is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). SSRIs increase levels of a neurotransmitter known as serotonin. This biochemical substance occurs naturally in the body and contributes to a person’s feelings of happiness and well-being. When SSRIs work as intended, higher levels of serotonin help ease the sadness and hopelessness which usually affect patients with major depression.
For pregnancy-related purposes, most SSRIs are designated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as class-C drugs. Class C drugs have shown that they have adverse side effects on test animals that receive large dosage levels. However, human infants can’t be used to test medications, so the effect of Zoloft or Lexapro on babies is based on observations and the rate of drug-related birth defects.
Paxil, however, is a Class D medication. Studies in humans and other investigations have shown a link between Paxil and other Class D drugs and an increased risk of congenital impairment or mutation. Paxil is the only drug in the SSRI category proven to cause birth defects. Regardless, some physicians will advise pregnant women to keep taking Paxil if they think the benefits will outweigh the risks.
Paxil and Risks to Infants
Some of the most common birth defect risks and medical problems associated with Paxil include:
- Heart problems
- Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)
- Cleft lip
- Cleft palate
- Club foot
- Hearing and speech impairment
- Uncontrollable, high-pitched crying
Paxil and Risks to Pregnant Women
Pregnant women also face serious health risks when taking Paxil while pregnant. One of the most common health associated with pregnant women is preeclampsia. Marked by abnormally high blood pressure, preeclampsia can cause serious health problems to pregnant women. If left untreated, preeclampsia may lead to:
- Heart disease
- Low placental blood flow
- HELLP syndrome
- Placental abruption
Another associated health risk is spontaneous miscarriage. In a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, several researchers from the University of Montreal and other Canadian hospitals studied over 60,000 women who took SSRI medications while pregnant. A little over 5% of the women miscarried during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Other Drugs Associated With Birth Defect Risks
Along with Paxil, there are quite a few other antidepressant drugs that can increase the risk of birth defects:
Who is Liable if Birth Defects Occur After Taking Paxil?
In most instances, physicians will not prescribe Paxil to women who are pregnant, and many will not prescribe Paxil to women who plan to become pregnant. However, if you are given the medication and the doctor fails to warn you of the dangers, the doctor may liable for damages.
In some cases, doctors may not know of the associated risks of the drug. If the manufacturers of Paxil failed to warn doctors and consumers of the risks of taking the medication while pregnant, they may also be liable for damages.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the British pharmaceutical company that developed Paxil, has been sanctioned, fined, and criticized for its deceptive sales tactics in marketing the antidepressant and other medications. In 2010, for instance, GSK recorded a legal charge of $2.4 billion to settle cases connected to both Paxil and Avandia, a diabetes medication.