Health

Antidepressants ‘Risk to Babies’

 A pregnant womanThe risk posed by some popular antidepressants in early pregnancy is not worth taking for women with mild to moderate depression, an expert has warned.

Professor Stephen Pilling says evidence suggests SSRIs can double the risk of a child being born with a heart defect.

The drugs have been used by up to one in six women of child-bearing age.

A manufacturer contacted by the BBC denies any link to major foetal malformations.

Panorama has spoken to eight mothers who had babies born with serious heart defects after taking a commonly used SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressant while pregnant. Currently, prescription guidelines for doctors only warn specifically against taking the SSRI, paroxetine, in early pregnancy.

But Prof Pilling, of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), says that advice is about to be updated.

"The available evidence suggests that there is a risk associated with the SSRIs. We make a quite a lot of effort really to discourage women from smoking or drinking even small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy, and yet we're perhaps not yet saying the same about antidepressant medication, which is going to be carrying similar – if not greater – risks," he said.

When Anna Wilson, from Ayrshire, had her 20-week scan, doctors realised her son had a serious heart problem and would need immediate heart surgery when he was born.

Now eight months old, David was hooked up to machines for the first five weeks of his life. He will need more open-heart surgery before he starts school and doctors say he may not live beyond 40.

"He's got a lot of suffering ahead of him before anything else," his mother said. "We know that's a certainty and that's pretty awful."

Four years before she became pregnant, Mrs Wilson was prescribed the drug Citalopram by her GP because she was suffering from anxiety.

Her doctor told her it was fine to continue using the drug when trying for a baby. But after David was born she asked what might have caused his heart condition.

"We did meet with a cardiologist at one of the scan appointments, and he explained that as far as he knew there were no environmental factors and it wasn't because of anything we as parents had done. It was just one of those things – couldn't be prevented," she said.

Prof Pilling says the guidance will now be re-written to take in to account evidence that the SSRI antidepressants, as a group, are linked to heart defects.

He says the risk of any baby being born with a heart defect is around two in 100; but the evidence suggests if the mother took an SSRI in early pregnancy that risk increases to around four in 100.

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