Health Canada Issues Advisory Regarding Link between Newer Antidepressants and Life-Threatening Respiratory Condition

Health Canada has issued a strongly worded “Advisory” to women who are taking newer antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant.

They are being advised to discuss the situation with their doctor due to potential life-threatening risks to their babies.

Equally important is the fact that patients taking SSRIs should not stop taking them without first consulting their doctors, as abrupt termination of these medications can cause them to experience serious side effects.

According to the advisory: “Generally, SSRI treatment should only be continued if the benefits to the individual patient are thought to outweigh the risks to the unborn child, while also considering the benefits and risks of switching to another treatment option or stopping treatment altogether.”

SSRIs and other newer antidepressants prescribed for the treatment of depression include the following drugs: WellbutrinCelexa (citalopram), Cipralex (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), RemeronPaxil (paroxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Effexor (venlafaxine), and Zyban (bupropion) for smoking cessation. (bupropion), (mirtazapine),

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that “use of SSRIs during the second half of pregnancy may be associated with a serious condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.”

Newborns with this rare but life-threatening condition do not receive enough oxygen in the blood and require intensive-care treatment to survive.

According to the study, babies born with this condition were six times more likely than healthy babies to have been exposed to SSRIs. This information is still considered to be preliminary.

Numerous reports in Canada and abroad have already indicated that some children exposed to SSRIs and other newer antidepressants during pregnancy may develop serious complications at birth.

“An increase in the overall risk of major birth defects has also been associated with SSRI use.”

Health Canada intends to “vigilantly” monitor the situation and issue additional advisories “if new concerns arise.”

Health Canada advisories on other SSRI-related complications in newborns are available on the Health Canada website (see August 9, 2004, October 6, 2005 and December 22, 2005).

Health Canada stresses that: “Managing the adverse reactions of marketed health products depends on the active participation of both healthcare professionals and consumers in reporting these reactions. The spontaneous reporting of adverse reactions generally underestimates the risks associated with the use of marketed health products.”

Consumers requiring more information about this advisory can contact the Health Canada public inquiries line at (613) 957-2991, or toll free at 1-866-225-0709.

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