Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Antidepressants During Pregnancy: What Are the Risks?

What is a woman struggling with depression supposed to do when she becomes pregnant?

A study published on Monday in the Archives of General Psychiatry tackles the tough decision of deciding to keep taking the medication, or risk harming the fetus.

Roughly six percent of pregnant women are taking antidepressants. The struggle to live with depression or risk your baby's health has plagued women for quite some time.

The latest study included 7,696 pregnant women. Five hundred and seventy of the women suffering from depression were not on medication, and 99 women with depression "were being treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a common class of antidepressants."

What this study found is that women going untreated for depression gave birth to babies that had a reduction in total body growth.

This affected the fetal head growth as well. Those women taking prenatal SSRI also had babies that suffered from a reduced growth of the fetal head, but the overall growth of the body during pregnancy was not affected.

What are the risks for the fetus during pregnancy with antidepressants? Mothers taking antidepressants could have preterm babies, who face higher health risks like respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders.

Not only could these children be born preterm, but according to the authors of the study, reduced fetal head-growth can lead to behavioural problems and psychiatric disorders later on.

However, the risks for the mother may outweigh the risks of the pregnancy, if she discontinues antidepressant medication.

Dr. Sudeepta Varma, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone School of Medicine reported "If we are talking about a woman who can't take care of her health as a result of battling with moderate to severe depression, she faces risks to herself as well as the baby that are associated with untreated depression during pregnancy."

According to Varma, "if you don't take care of the mom, there may be no baby to speak of."

These findings however are inconclusive according to the authors of the study. "More long-term drug safety studies are needed before evidence-based recommendations can be derived," concluded the authors.

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