According to a new study, the use of antidepressants during pregnancy may increase the risk of high blood pressure in the lungs or pulmonary hypertension. As blood pressure in the lungs increases, newborns may suffer from difficulty breathing, dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath. The condition is not often persistent, but severe cases can be life-threatening.

Researchers in Stockholm, Sweden evaluated more than 1.5 million pregnancy records for the study. Infants were evaluated at 33 weeks after birth. According to pregnancy records, about 28,000 women filled prescriptions for antidepressants during the study period. About 17,000 prescriptions were recorded in early pregnancy and about 11,000 in the latter stages of pregnancy.

When compiling the research results, investigators took several factors into consideration that could cause an abnormal rise in pulmonary blood pressure, including gestational age at birth, birth weight, maternal smoking habits and various maternal conditions like preeclampsia, lupus, and arthritis. After taking each of these factors into consideration, researchers found a clear connection between antidepressant use during pregnancy and pulmonary hypertension in infants.

The research study revealed:

  • Less than 0.2% of infants born to mothers filling antidepressant prescriptions in early pregnancy suffered from persistent pulmonary hypertension.
  • About 0.2% of infants born to mothers filling antidepressant prescriptions in the latter stage of pregnancy suffered from persistent pulmonary hypertension. 
  • About 114 infants born to mothers with a previous diagnosis of mental illness suffered persistent pulmonary hypertension.

While the numbers of infants born with the condition were relatively small, researchers noted that infants born to mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy were at increased risk of developing the disease. Specifically, mothers taking antidepressants during the latter stages of pregnancy are about twice as likely to have infants suffering from pulmonary hypertension.

Drugs investigating in the study include fluvoxamine, paroxetine, fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, and escitalopram.

The use of antidepressants during pregnancy is crucial, in some cases, for the health of the pregnant woman. It is important to reveal all prescription medications to your obstetrician immediately after a positive pregnancy test; even if the medications were prescribed by another physician.

Source: Helle Kieler, Miia Artama, Anders Engeland, Orjan Ericsson, Kari Furu, Mika Gissler, Rikke Beck Nielsen, Mette Norgaard, Olof Stephansson, Unnur Valdimarsdottir, Helga Zoega and Bengt Haglund. BMJ. 12 January, 2012.