The popular antidepressant medication Effexor (venlafaxine) has been associated with more than a tripled risk of having a baby with gastroschisis, a life-threatening abdominal defect. Babies with gastroschisis are born with abdominal organs protruding outside of their body.
Effexor and Gastroschisis
How could an antidepressant medication like Effexor (venlafaxine) possible increase the risk of a congenital birth defect like gastroschisis? At first, the connection may not make a lot of sense. Effexor is used as a treatment for psychological disorders like major depression, panic, and anxiety. It works by influencing serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters involved in moods and emotions.
When you took Effexor, you may or may not have been warned that its effects on serotonin signaling can also potentially harm fetal development and increase the risk of gastroschisis. In fact, animal studies have found significant increased risks of heart defects, skeletal defects, low birth weight, and fetal death. This is why Effexor is classified as a “Pregnancy Category C” drug.
Studies of Effexor and Gastroschisis
Researchers published the following study in Birth Defects Research in December 2012, in which Effexor was linked to a 3.3-fold increased risk of gastroschisis. The researchers used data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS), an ongoing database of birth defects and potential risk factors, between 1997 and 2007. They also found higher risks of many other birth defects.
What is Gastroschisis?
The congenital birth defect gastroschisis occurs when the abdominal wall fails to close completely during the first trimester of pregnancy. The remaining hole (or, “hernia”) may allow large portions of the intestines and/or internal organs like the stomach or liver to protrude outside the baby’s body.
If the baby’s internal organs are exposed to amniotic fluid in the womb, they may become irritated, twisted, and severely damaged. There is also a risk of organ damage during the birthing process.
Once the baby is born, treatment depends on the severity of the defect. Minor gastroschisis can often be repaired shortly after birth in a once-stage procedure. A surgeon will place the organs back inside the baby’s abdomen and suture the hernia closed.
Severe gastroschisis often requires multiple surgeries and several stages of treatment. It can be very complicated to treat gastroschisis if the intestines or organs have become infected or are too badly damaged to function. Treatment is also very complicated if the baby’s abdomen is not large enough to hold the organs.