Cymbalta (duloxetine) is an antidepressant medication that has been associated with an increased risk of birth defects.
Cymbalta and Birth Defects
Cymbalta belongs to a class of antidepressants known as SNRIs (serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Other antidepressants in this class include Effexor (venlafaxine) and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine). Unfortunately, studies of SNRI birth defects have found that they can increase the risk of birth defects.
Cymbalta is in Pregnancy Category C because animal studies have shown that it can cause fetal harm. However, the risk of human birth defects from Cymbalta is still under investigation.
Studies of Cymbalta Birth Defects
Cymbalta was specifically linked to severe pregnancy complications and birth defects in a study published in February 2013 by the International Journal of Medical Sciences:
- Congenital abnormalities (birth defects)
- Spontaneous abortion
- Premature or post-term birth
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Neurobehavioral defects
Studies of Other SNRIs and Birth Defects
Studies of other SNRI antidepressants, such as Effexor, have also found an increased risk of birth defects. One study was published in January 2013. It involved nearly 20,000 women who took Effexor from 1997-2007. Researchers found that it was associated with higher risks of heart defects, facial defects, abdominal defects, and cranial defects. These birth defects include:
- Atrial septal defect (ASD)
- Cleft palate
- Coarctation of the aorta
Cymbalta and PPHN
In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published this Drug Safety Communication to warn about the risk of Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN) in babies expose to SSRI antidepressants in the womb. Because SSRIs are very similar to SNRIs like Cymbalta, it is possible that Cymbalta may also increase the risk of PPHN.
PPHN is a serious birth complication that can cause permanent brain damage or death. It begins shortly before birth. Normally, blood pressure in the baby’s lungs drops 10-fold, which causes blood to flow into the lungs. After the baby is born and it starts breathing independently, oxygen is transferred to the blood in the lungs. In babies with PPHN, blood pressure remains high. This causes very low oxygen levels in the baby’s blood.