A new study, published in the BMJ, has found a link between the use of commonly-prescribed antidepressants Prozac and Paxil by pregnant women, and a small increased risk of birth defects. It is the most thorough study to date looking at how SSRI antidepressants taken by pregnant women affect their unborn children, an issue that has long been the subject of discussion. This study reviewed data on 17,952 mothers of infants born with birth defects and 9,857 mothers of children born without defects. Researchers looked at the use, shortly before or early in pregnancy, of five antidepressants of the same type — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Three of the drugs — citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), and sertraline (Zoloft) — were not associated with any birth defects. They did find, however, that fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil) were linked to seven specific birth defects, including those involving heart structures, abnormal brain formation and the growth of the intestines outside of the body. The researchers stressed that they only discovered a slightly increased risk in every case, and that the absolute risk of birth defects remains small. While they acknowledge the need for additional studies on the subject, they hope the new research will provide guidance to the safest treatment options for women who need antidepressants in early pregnancy.
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