If you took an antidepressant medication such as Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) during pregnancy and had a bay with a heart defect, you are not alone. More than a dozen studies have linked antidepressants to birth defects, and heart defects are the most common defect associated with antidepressants.
What is Pristiq?
Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) is a medication that is prescribed to treat major depressive disorder in adults. It belongs to a class of antidepressants known as SNRIs (Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors) which work by influencing levels of two neurotransmitters: serotonin and norepinephrine.
When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pristiq in February 2008, they classified it as a Pregnancy Category C drug. This means that it might cause birth defects, but doctors can still prescribe it to women if the risk of relapsing into depression is greater than any potential risk to a fetus.
Studies of Pristiq and Birth Defects
No well-controlled studies have been conducted of Pristiq in pregnant women. However, scientists have conducted studies of Pristiq in rodents and rabbits. These animals studies have linked Pristiq to an increased risk of low fetal birth weight and fetal death of unknown cause. Furthermore, more than 12 studies have linked antidepressants to an increased risk of birth defects.
You may be wondering how an antidepressant, which influences moods and emotions, could potentially cause a birth defect. According to this study, published in December 2011 in the Reproductive Toxicology, the neurotransmitter serotonin is actually very important during fetal heart development. According to the researchers:
“Serotonin may be particularly important for heart development and evidence suggests that from the time that progenitor heart cells are patterned during the establishment of laterality, to formation of the outflow tract, to myocardial cell differentiation, to septation of the heart chambers, the neurotransmitter may act as an important signaling molecule.”
Any medication that adversely influences serotonin in a developing fetus could potentially cause a severe, life-threatening heart defect.