For immediate release
OTTAWA – Health Canada is advising women who are taking antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI) and who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant to discuss the situation with their doctor due to potential risks to the baby.
Health Canada stresses that patients should not stop taking SSRI medication without first consulting their doctors, as they could experience serious side effects.
Generally, SSRI treatment should only be continued if the benefits to the individual patient are thought to outweigh the risks to the unborn child, while also considering the benefits and risks of switching to another treatment option or stopping treatment altogether. These precautions and the possibility of adverse health effects in newborns are mentioned in the current Canadian prescribing information and consumer information for SSRIs.
SSRIs and other newer antidepressants prescribed for the treatment of depression include the following drugs: Wellbutrin (bupropion), Celexa (citalopram), Cipralex (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Remeron (mirtazapine), Paxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Effexor (venlafaxine), and Zyban (bupropion) for smoking cessation.
A study published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that use of SSRIs during the second half of pregnancy may be associated with a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. Newborns with this rare but life-threatening condition do not receive enough oxygen in the blood and require intensive-care treatment to survive. According to the study, babies born with this condition were six times more likely than healthy babies to have been exposed to SSRIs. This information is considered to be preliminary at this time.
Numerous reports in Canada and abroad have already indicated that some children exposed to SSRIs and other newer antidepressants during pregnancy may develop serious complications at birth. An increase in the overall risk of major birth defects has also been associated with SSRI use.
The safety of these drugs is vigilantly monitored and Canadians will continue to be informed if new concerns arise. Health Canada advisories on other SSRI-related complications in newborns are available on the Health Canada website (see August 9, 2004, October 6, 2005 and December 22, 2005).
Managing the adverse reactions of marketed health products depends on the active participation of both healthcare professionals and consumers in reporting these reactions. The spontaneous reporting of adverse reactions generally underestimates the risks associated with the use of marketed health products.