Studies have linked SSRI class drugs with serious birth defects in babies when used by their mothers during pregnancy. SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs are typically prescribed to treat depression and anxiety disorders. They include medications like Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro and Celexa.
SSRI related birth defects include persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), previously diagnosed as primary pulmonary hypertension. This cardiopulmonary defect restricts the flow of blood through the lungs, causing high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries. This hinders oxygen absorption into the blood stream and can negatively affect the brain, kidneys, liver and other vital organs.
In addition to arterial restrictions in the lungs, blood flow may be diverted through existing fetal-stage blood vessels, missing the lungs almost entirely. During pregnancy, the fetus receives oxygenated blood from its mother. Normally, after birth, the foramen ovale and ductus arteriosus close, but in babies with PPHN, they remain open – often more open than arteries in the lungs – and do not allow for the baby’s blood to be properly oxygenated in its lungs.
Symptoms of PPHN can include shortness of breath and rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, heart murmurs, low blood oxygen levels and bluish skin (cyanosis).
Tests to diagnose PPHN are usually conducted soon after the birth. An echocardiogram (EKG), chest x-ray or one of several blood tests are typical. An Arterial Blood Gas (ABG) test examines oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood, while a Complete Blood Count (CBC) examines the level of red and white blood cells, as well as platelet count.
If a baby is diagnosed with PPHN, treatment options vary and will usually require that the baby be placed in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Pure oxygen will be given to help raise the blood-oxygen level, several drug treatments may be considered and in extreme cases, an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO) may also be used. The ECMO temporarily acts as the baby’s heart and lungs while he or she is in the NICU, giving these organs a chance to heal.
Unfortunately, even with treatment, PPHN can be deadly. Heart failure, brain hemorrhage and vital organ failure may result from insufficient blood-oxygen levels. Other long-term side effects can include breathing difficulties, seizures, developmental disorders and hearing loss. Also, depending on the SSRI and dosages level taken by the mother, babies may also experience withdrawal symptoms seen in adults like seizures, tremors, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal problems.
If you were prescribed an SSRI and your baby was born with PPHN or another birth defect, you may be entitled to compensation. Please contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options.