The recently published findings of a Canadian study of women taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of antidepressant prescription drug also known as SSRI, and the drug’s effect on the child she carries, indicate there is a small but increased risk of a particular lung condition the infant may develop when its mother takes an SSRI during the late stages of pregnancy. No increased risk of the infant lung condition was associated with taking an SSRI during early pregnancy.

The lung condition - persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) - is rare, occurring in only 2 newborns out of every 1,000 born. It is characterized by high blood pressure in the baby’s lungs.

The increased risk of a baby developing PPHN when its mother uses SSRIs during the late stages of pregnancy is so small that, in order to create just one additional case of the lung condition per 1,000 births, the SSRI must be taken by 286 to 351 expectant mothers during late pregnancy.

The research involved an analysis of seven clinical studies exploring the association between a woman’s SSRI use during pregnancy and PPHN. Although there are several forms of antidepressant medication, only the SSRI class was used in the seven studies investigated by Sophie Grigoriadis and her team of researchers affiliated with the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Ontario, Canada. The research team also took into consideration other risk factors associated with PPHN in addition to SSRI exposure in the womb.

The findings of the Grigoriadis study suggest the need for further research involving other forms of antidepressant medications and any influence they may have on PPHN.

The research team recommends an educated discussion of the following points for the patient and her family when SSRI use is considered:

  • PPHN in general
  • Range and severity of symptoms
  • Kinds of PPHN treatments available at the medical institution where the child will be born
  • Successful management of PPHN should it occur

Sometimes alternate forms of antidepressant medications can be prescribed in lieu of SSRIs or in place of them for the last few months of pregnancy. Therapeutic counseling and lifestyle adjustments are effective treatments for some patients suffering from depression.

In their report published online on January 14, 2014, the authors of the study write: “It is imperative that the mother’s health be weighed heavily in treatment decisions; she and her family must be counseled on both the risks of exposing the fetus to antidepressant drugs and the risks of severe depressive illness.”

Source: Grigoriadis, Sophie, et al. “Prenatal exposure to antidepressants and persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn: systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd. Jan 14, 2014. Web. Jan 23, 2014.