Taking Effexor (venlafaxine) during pregnancy is associated with more than a tripled risk of having a baby with coarctation of the aorta, according to recent studies. This heart defect can be life-threatening and it may require surgery shortly after birth.
Effexor and Coarctation of the Aorta
Effexor (venlafaxine) is an antidepressant medication that belongs to the “Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor” (SNRI) class. Unlike most other antidepressants, which only influence serotonin, Effexor influences both serotonin and norepinephrine. Although this is often an effective treatment for depression, it could potentially increase the risk of birth defects.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, serotonin is important for normal fetal heart development. Many studies have linked antidepressants to an increased risk of heart defects, including coarctation of the aorta. Unfortunately, many women who took Effexor while they were pregnant were not aware of the increased risk of birth defects.
Studies of Effexor and Coarctation of the Aorta
The link between Effexor and coarctation of the aorta was established in this study, published in Birth Defects Research in December 2012. The researchers evaluated data collected from 1997 to 2007 in the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. They found that coarctation of the aorta was 3.2-times more likely among infants exposed to Effexor in the womb.
The researchers also warned about several other birth defects associated with Effexor:
“Statistically significant associations were found for anencephaly, atrial septal defect (ASD) secundum, or ASD not otherwise specified, coarctation of the aorta, cleft palate, and gastroschisis.”
What is Coarctation of the Aorta?
Coarctation of the aorta is a type of heart defect in which the aorta develops with an unusual narrowing (“coarctation”) near an opening called the ductus arteriosus. The severity of the condition depends on the narrowness of the coarctation. If the aorta is unable to carry enough oxygenated blood from the heart to the body, the condition can be life-threatening.
Mild coarctations may show no symptoms until the child is an adolescent or adult. Children with more severe coarctations of the aorta may have the following symptoms shortly after birth:
- Pale or blue skin, lips, nails
- Heavy sweating
- Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, heavy and/or rapid breathing
- Poor growth
- Poor feeding
- Cool or clammy skin
- And more
Another symptom may be a heart murmur, which a physician may hear while listening to the baby’s heart with a stethoscope. The condition can be conclusively diagnosed with a chest X-ray, echocardiogram, and other tests.
If the condition is severe, the child may need open heart surgery in early infancy. However, in less serious cases, children may be able to wait several years and undergo a less-invasive cardiac catheterization treatment.