January 16, 2014 — The British Medical Journal has published a study linking the use of antidepressants late in pregnancy to a 2.5-fold increased risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN), a rare but life-threatening birth defect of the lungs.
The Canadian research team looked at data from seven different studies and concluded that first-trimester exposure to antidepressants was not associated with PPHN. However, the incidence of PPHN increased significantly in babies exposed during the third trimester.
Even so, researchers cautioned that the absolute risk was low:
“The absolute risk difference for development of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn after exposure to SSRIs in late pregnancy was 2.9 to 3.5 per 1000 infants; therefore an estimated 286 to 351 women would need to be treated with an SSRI in late pregnancy to result in an average of one additional case of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn.”
The FDA originally warned about the risk in 2006, after a study linked the use of SSRIs to a 6-fold increased risk of PPHN. However, the FDA backtracked in 2011 after additional studies were published with conflicting results about the risk of PPHN.