A new study in the British Medical Journal warns of possible birth defects from the use of antidepressants.
The risk — 6 to 10 %, versus 3 to 5 % in women who do not take the drugs — is high enough to merit caution in their use, especially since, in most cases, they are only marginally effective, the study says.
“In pregnancy, you’re treating the mother but you’re worried about the unborn child, and the benefit needs to outweigh the risk,” said the study’s senior author, Anick Bérard, a professor at UdeM’s Faculty of Pharmacy and researcher at its affiliated children’s hospital, CHU Sainte-Justine.
A well-known expert in pregnancy and depression, Bérard has previously established links between antidepressants and low birth weight, gestational hypertension, miscarriages and autism. Her new study is among the first to examine the link to birth defects among depressed women.
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Every year, about 135,000 Quebec women get pregnant, and of those, about 7 % show some signs of depression, mostly mild to moderate. A much smaller percentage — less than one per cent — suffers from severe depression.
In her study, Bérard looked at 18,487 depressed women in the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort, a longitudinal, population-based grouping of 289,688 pregnancies recorded between 1998 to 2009. Of the women studied, 3,640 — about 20 per cent — took antidepressants in the first three months.
For example, when Celexa (the brand name for citalopram) was taken in the first trimester, the risk of major birth defects jumped from 5 per cent to 8 per cent, Bérard found. In all, 88 cases of malformations were linked to use of the drug.