It's a sad fact that while millions of men and women take antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the effects of these medications on pregnant women and their offspring remains largely undocumented.
Online PR News – 27-July-2011 – – Most past medical research on Zoloft birth defects and other complications has been inconsistent and inconclusive, but in the wake of these imperfect tests and studies, new research is being uncovered almost daily that helps shed some light on the possible dangers of SSRI therapy during pregnancy. While it's important to remember that even these most recent findings are far from conclusive, they do help point out the possible risks for birth defects for offspring exposed to Zoloft and other SSRIs during pregnancy.
One research team out of Northern Denmark used a sample group of over 200,000 women. Of this group, just over 2,000 women used SSRIs at least into their first trimester of pregnancy. The study then went on to follow up with all the women in the overall sample who gave birth to live babies after at least 20 weeks of gestation. Prescription drug information was provided to the team via the country's computerized prescription network. Some primary variables that the team paid special attention to were maternal age, birth weight, gestational age, and maternal smoking status (among other elements). The team even tracked maternal use of other antidepressants in conjunction with SSRIs so as to exclude those who were taking more than one drug, in an effort to uncover only the effects of SSRIs, specifically Zoloft (chemical name: sertraline).
The research team practiced due diligence in excluding possible complicating factors in maternal health, such as diabetes and the use of antiepileptic drugs which have also been found to cause the kind of malformations that the team was looking for in connection with SSRIs.
Among the total group of 2,062 women who had taken an SSRI at any time during pregnancy, roughly 40% of them had redeemed a prescription for their medication up into the third trimester, making their fetus' exposure to the drug for an extremely long term. Among the babies born to this group, 5.1% had congenital malformations (this group would include possible Zoloft birth defects). The “unexposed” group, that is, mothers who were not on SSRIs and whose babies were not exposed to the drug in utero, had only a 3.5% incidence of malformations. It's worth noting that on a chemical level, SSRIs pass extremely easily through the placenta and directly into the developing fetus.
The most common malformations included atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect, and unspecified congenital cardiac malformation. This study shows that any period of SSRI use, such as Zoloft, could increase a baby's risk of malformations of any kind by almost 50%. Cardiac malformations seemed especially likely, as the prevalence of congenital cardiac malformations noted between age zero to one was 1.3% in those infants whose mothers had taken an SSRI during pregnancy as opposed to the .7% prevalence among unexposed infants. Most notably, sertraline (Zoloft) was associated with three times the risk factor for cardiac malformations, making this the most common Zoloft birth defect. The study also showed an increased risk for septal defects in infants exposed to Zoloft as well.
As is always the case with SSRI/antidepressant research situations, it can be difficult to tell if the possible risk of stress on the mother and fetus, and the inherent complications associated with that, would possibly be more harmful to the baby than any medications that a mother might take to mitigate those factors. While the research team did find supporting evidence from other studies done in America, as well as another Danish research team, they were quick to point out that there may have been, and may still be, underlying factors surrounding these births that need to be examined more thoroughly in future studies. For now though, it would seem that there may be a link between SSRIs like Zoloft and an increased risk of birth defects. Zoloft birth defects were definitely more prevalent in infants whose mothers had taken the drug for a larger percentage of their pregnancies.