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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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SSRIs and Treatment Challenges of Depression in Pregnancy

Audience: Neuropsychiatric and other healthcare professionals, and consumers
[Posted 07/19/2006] FDA notified healthcare professionals and consumers of important information from two recent studies that should be considered when making treatment decisions in pregnant women who take antidepressants. The studies included pregnant women who were treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or in a few cases, other antidepressant medications.

One study illustrated the potential risk of relapsed depression after stopping antidepressant medication during pregnancy. In this study, women who stopped their medicine were five times more likely to have a relapse of depression during their pregnancy than were women who continued to take their antidepressant medicine while pregnant.

The second study suggests there may be additional, though rare, risks of taking SSRI medications during pregnancy. This study focused on newborn babies with persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN), which is a serious and life-threatening lung condition that occurs soon after birth. Babies born with PPHN have high pressure in their lung blood vessels and are not able to get enough oxygen into their bloodstream. In this study, PPHN was six times more common in babies whose mothers took an SSRI antidepressant after the 20th week of pregnancy compared to babies whose mothers did not take an antidepressant. The study was too small to compare the risk of one drug compared to another. The finding of PPHN in babies of mothers who used a SSRI antidepressant in the second half of pregnancy adds to concerns from previous reports that infants of mothers taking SSRIs late in pregnancy may experience difficulties such as irritability, difficulty feeding and in very rare cases, difficulty breathing.

Additionally, the labeling for paroxetine (Paxil) was recently changed to add information about findings in an epidemiologic study that suggests that exposure to the drug in the first trimester of pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of cardiac birth defects.

Women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should not stop any antidepressant medication without first consulting their physician. The FDA is seeking additional information about the possible risk of PPHN in newborn babies of mothers who took SSRI antidepressants in pregnancy. FDA has asked the sponsors of all SSRIs to change prescribing information to describe the potential risk for PPHN.

[July 19, 2006 - Public Health Advisory - FDA]