Antidepressant Use in Late Pregnancy Linked to Slight Risk of Rare Disorder

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Taking SSRI antidepressants may increase the risk of development of persistent pulmonary hypertension in offspring.
Taking SSRI antidepressants may increase the risk of development of persistent pulmonary hypertension in offspring.

HealthDay News  — Babies born to mothers taking antidepressants in late pregnancy may be slightly more likely to develop a rare circulation disorder, a new study suggests.

However, the increased risk of the disorder — known as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) — is small, and similar to the risk in women with untreated depression.

“Although we cannot exclude the possibility that there might be an increased risk of PPHN associated with SSRI [antidepressant] use late in pregnancy, our study has shown that the absolute risk is small,” said lead author Krista Huybrechts, PhD. She is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The researchers followed more than 3.7 million women enrolled in Medicaid from just before their pregnancy through one month postpartum. Among these women, just over 3% filled at least one prescription for antidepressants during their third trimester.

Overall, the rate of babies born with PPHN was approximately 21 infants per 10,000 births among women who did not take antidepressants, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among those who took SSRIs, the rate of the condition was 32 infants per 10,000 births The rate was slightly lower, 29 children per 10,000 births, for women taking antidepressants other than SSRIs, the study found.

When the researchers compared women with untreated depression to those taking antidepressants, the risk of PPHN didn't differ much between women taking antidepressants and those not taking them.

A newborn's blood circulation is supposed to change after birth from what it was in the womb, but the circulation in a baby with PPHN does not fully make this transition, according to background information in the study. The condition is life-threatening.

Previous research had suggested that taking antidepressants after the 20th week of pregnancy could significantly increase the risk of PPHN, according to the study authors.

Women with depression commonly take antidepressants, including drugs in a class called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Common SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac), escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil) and citalopram (Celexa).


Huybrechts KF, et al. Antidepressant Use Late in Pregnancy and Risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn. JAMA. 2015; 313(21):2142-2151. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.5605.

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