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Birth Defects From Snris: What Is The Risk?

Law Articles

According to the New York Times, one in ten Americans now uses antidepressant drugs. Antidepressant use is more prevalent in some groups than others, and 25 percent of women in their 40s or 50s now use these medications. Doctors can prescribe several types of antidepressant, including a group of drugs called serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors – or SNRIs for short. Find out how SNRIs affect the body, and how this type of antidepressant can increase the risk of birth defects during pregnancy.

How SNRIs work

Like most other antidepressants, SNRIs treat the symptoms of depression by affecting the way your brain works. Chemical messengers called neurotransmitters allow the brain cells to communicate, but if the natural balance of these chemicals changes, you may start to see the symptoms of depression or anxiety. SNRIs can alter the level of certain chemicals, allowing your brain cells to send and receive messages more normally.

SNRIs stop the brain absorbing (or reuptaking) chemicals called serotonin and norephinephrine, which increases the natural level of neurotransmitters. Doctors sometimes refer to SNRIs as dual-action antidepressants because they target two types of neurotransmitter.

SNRIs versus SSRIs

Researchers developed SNRIs more recently than other types of antidepressant. Before SNRIs, many people with depression used (and continue to use) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRIs. SSRIs only target the absorption of serotonin, and studies show that SNRIs are often more effective than SNRIs for treating depression and anxiety.

While millions of people successfully use SSRIs or SNRIs to treat depression and anxiety, studies show that both classes of antidepressant can cause serious side effects. If women use these antidepressants during pregnancy, they can increase the risk of a birth defect or miscarriage. A 2010 study found that women using antidepressants were 68 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage.

Types of birth defect

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies many antidepressants (including SNRIs) as pregnancy-related C-class drugs. This classification occurs when laboratory tests show that the drug causes serious side effects in animals when used in high doses. This grade also indicates the potential risk that a medication can present to pregnant women.

Researchers attribute birth defects to SNRIs based on adverse event reports to the FDA and other direct medical observations. Birth defects that doctors associate with SNRIs include:

  • Cleft lip or palate
  • Craniosynostosis (a skull deformity that stops the brain growing properly)
  • Heart defects
  • Breathing problems
  • Anencephaly (a fatal defect that affects the baby's skull, scalp and brain)

What the FDA says

The FDA has warned consumers about the dangers from antidepressant use during pregnancy, specifically from a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn – or PPHN. This condition damages the child's heart and lungs, causing developmental problems outside the womb. Antidepressants now carry a specific warning that relates to this condition, which is sometimes fatal.

The legal implications

Doctors should explain the risks associated with SNRIs before prescribing them. You should always tell your doctor if you are pregnant, or if you are trying for a child, before you take new prescription medicine. A conscientious doctor will counsel you against a class C drug during pregnancy and after birth. If a doctor prescribes an SNRI without discussing the risks with you, he or she may become liable for damages if you go on to file a personal injury lawsuit.

Some women have also filed lawsuits against the manufacturers of SNRI antidepressants. These lawsuits allege that the manufacturer failed to warn doctors and patients adequately about the risks of SNRIs for pregnant women. Personal injury attorneys argue that the makers knew or should have known about the risks, but did not issue any safety information.

Studies show that SNRI antidepressants are dangerous for pregnant women. If you or someone you love suffers an injury as a result of these drugs, you should consult an experienced attorney from a law firm like Hardee and Hardee LLP for more advice.


15 January 2015