Depression medication on the Rise: Mother’s prescription can cause birth defects

One of the gravest ills that has crutched modern humanity is the unprecedented surge in mental issues related to anxiety, stress, and depression.

The National Institute of Mental Health states that about 18% percent of the American population, making a whopping 40 million adults, are suffering from anxiety disorders.

Depression, as a serious mental condition on its own, is in more than 15 million adults in the U.S, many of whom depend on anti-depressant medications to get through the day.

The condition of depression in its most severe form is so unforgiving and beyond control that many clinically diagnosed patients are just not able to cope with it by themselves. The patient’s strife against daily life under depression can become too difficult to bear and many go down the path of committing suicide if they were not medicated. However, antidepressants are rarely pure saviors as they come with many side effects which are often visible, and sometimes, quite harmful.

Some common side effects of depression include nausea, weight gain, and decreased sexual desire, erectile dysfunction, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, and dizziness.  Studies claim that women are twice likely than men of the same age, to get depression which translates that the condition afflicts 12% of the population. Particularly during pregnancy, many women face a gush of anxiety and depressive stretches.

According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal by Montreal University, anti-depressants taken by the mother can increase the chances of the baby being born with birth defects. While it’s important to treat the condition of the mother, it’s also crucial to note the risk factors that are associated with the drug and the impact they can have on the unborn fetus.

Additionally, the benefit of the drug has to outweigh the risks for it to be acceptably used. The risk was studied to increase from 3-5% to 6-10% amongst mothers who did not take antidepressants compared to the ones who did.

A professor at UdeM’s Faculty of Pharmacy, Anick Bérard revealed the difference in risk factors. An expert in pregnancy and depression, Berard has earlier established links between anti-depressants and other pregnancy problems like low birth weight, miscarriages, gestational hypertension, and autism. Also, a researcher at children’s hospital, CHU Sainte-Justine, her recent study on birth defects and depression medication is the first of its kind.

18,487 women who were diagnosed with depression were studied in the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort which is a population based longitudinal group of 289,688 pregnant women from 1988-2009. Amongst the study group, 20% of the women were taking antidepressants during the first trimester.

The reason due to which the study focused on the first trimester was that it was when the organ systems develop while at 12 weeks a baby is fully formed. Hence during these crucial formation weeks the use of antidepressant drugs can impair the fetus’s ability to absorb serotonin which can lead to malformations.

Serotonin is actually vital in the early pregnancy for all embryotic cell development and any disturbance caused in the signaling process of the chemical does have the potential to cause many kinds of malformations.

A particular drug for depression called Celexa, which was taken in the first trimester, caused the risk of developing birth defects to rise from 5% to 8%. In the study, a total of 88 cases of malformations were linked to the use of this drug.

In the same way other antidepressants taken by first trimester mothers were, Paxil; found to be associated with heart defects, Effexor; with lung defects and tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil caused increased face, neck, eye and ear defects.

As depression is on a global rise, its occurrence in pregnant women is serious as well. The WHO states depression to be the leading cause of death while increasing number of mothers are prescribed more and more anti-depressants by their doctors, psychiatrists, and obstetricians.

The study also reported that the number of expectant women in Quebec itself doubled from 1998 to 2009. While there are ways to cope with stress without medication, depression may be harder to deal with; especially when women lack the financial means, time or support to seek solutions like psychotherapy.

Many under the regular use of anti-depressant drugs are also those women who are more marginalized as they tend to be older, live alone or on welfare and may also have other illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.

What women can do is that they should overall, but especially when pregnant, try to educate themselves always as much as they can about the impacts that their medications can have on their babies before they are even fully formed. This vigilant approach is extremely important in the light of the new revelations, given with the minimal effect that anti-depressant drugs have on the majority of pregnant women.



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