After years of conflicting studies regarding the dangers of prescribing selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to pregnant women, experts are now warning against the complications that the class of anti-depressant can cause during pregnancy, like premature birth and pre-eclampsia (both of which can be fatal). Additionally, new research also suggests that SSRIs can double the chance for autism in children and pose a threat of lung and bowel diseases.
Although the FDA issued warnings about taking SSRIs during pregnancy, a study published last year in the Obstetrics and Gynecology International found that for every study about the risks of SSRIs, there's another that negates it. In her series about pre-natal depression for Slate, Jessica Grose pointed out:
The only risk that seems consistent among all of these drugs is for infants' withdrawal symptoms, which include jitteriness, irritability, respiratory problems, and in very rare cases, convulsions. However, the authors of the paper describe the majority of these symptoms as "mild and transient." This paper, which is an analysis of more than 100 other studies on SSRIs and pregnancy done over the course of the past 20 years, concludes that "the general benefit of treatment seems to outweigh the potential small risk of untoward effects on the embryo, fetus, or neonate."
Earlier this week, the topic of anti-depressants and pregnancy was discussed at the American Society of Reproduction conference in San Diego, where leading doctors in the field pointed to 40 studies that linked taking SSRIs during pregnancy with endangering a child, including one that suggests the drugs double the chance of autism. However, the link is "far from proven."
Dr. Alice Domar, a psychologist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said, "We're not saying that every pregnant woman should go off her medication. Obviously you don't want a pregnant woman to attempt suicide."
But she seemed concerned that general practitioners are more likely to prescribe the drugs to pregnant women, and not psychiatrists. She advised that doctors be educated about the risks and that pregnant women be offered alternative cures for mild-to-moderate depression.
Ultimately, there still is no standard when it comes to SSRIs and pregnancy, and the risks to the fetus and the mother should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Image via PhotographyByMK/Shutterstock