SSRI antidepressant drugs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, have become increasingly prescribed in recent years. In fact, between 2002 and 2005, the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled increased from 154 million to 170 million, according to a report provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. SSRI drugs function by restoring the balance of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling mood. By doing so, these drugs can relieve the symptoms of depression and improve certain mood disorders. One of the most widely prescribed SSRI antidepressants available is Lexapro, a drug manufactured by pharmaceutical company, Forest Laboratories. In fact, in 2007, Lexapro was considered the number two antidepressant, behind Zoloft, with 29.6 million prescriptions filled. Lexapro (escitalopram) garnered FDA approval in 2002 and has since been prescribed to individuals suffering from major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Unfortunately, a number of recent studies have raised serious doubts about the safety of Lexapro, especially in treating pregnant women. According to this body of research, women who take SSRI antidepressants like Lexapro while pregnant may significantly increase their risk of giving birth to infants with serious birth defects, including anal atresia.
Anal atresia, also known as imperforate anus, is a birth defect occurring when the opening to the anus is blocked or absent. This type of malformation results from the failure of a fetus to develop properly in utero, and can lead to serious complications for the child after birth, since the anus is the opening through which stools leave the body. In some instances of anal atresia, the rectum may end in a blind pouch that doesn’t connect to the colon, or it may have an opening to the urethra, vagina, bladder, or base of the penis. Common symptoms of anal atresia include a swollen abdomen, failure to pass stool within 24-48 hours after birth, and stool passing out of the urethra, scrotum, vagina, or base of the penis.
Anal atresia can typically be treated with reconstructive surgery, although the success of treatment will depend largely on the extent of damage to other parts of the child’s body. In some cases, the rectum may connect with other organs, in which case the affected organs would need to be repaired as well. Unfortunately, many children born with anal atresia are plagued with additional birth defects, particularly malformations of the genitals, spine and urinary tract, so all children with anal atresia should be tested for other problems after birth. With treatment, most children suffering from anal atresia make a full recovery; unfortunately, some children may suffer from further complications, including bowel incontinence, intestinal blockage and constipation.
In 2006, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and healthcare providers about the potential increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) among infants whose mothers take SSRI drugs like Lexapro during pregnancy. PPHN is a serious heart and lung condition in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the body of oxygen. This advisory was issued in response to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that same year, in which researchers found a shocking six-times increased risk of PPHN among infants exposed to SSRIs like Lexapro after the twentieth week of pregnancy. According to the report, up to twelve out of 1,000 infants exposed to an SSRI developed PPHN, compared to the expected rate among the general population, which is one to two infants out of 1,000.
A year later, the NEJM published two additional studies, the first of which indicated that infants born to women who took an SSRI like Lexapro during the first trimester of pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to be born with birth defects like anal atresia, limb defects and club foot. Researchers also found a possible link between SSRIs and cleft palate, cleft lip and neural tube birth defects. According to the second study, infants whose mothers took an SSRI during pregnancy were more than twice as likely to be born with a catastrophic birth defect like craniosynostosis, anencephaly or omphalocele.
In 2010, the American Journal of Nursing published a study in which researchers sought to examine the adverse effects of fetal exposure to SSRIs like Lexapro. According to the study, infants exposed to an SSRI in utero were nearly twice as likely to develop serious heart defects, namely atrial and ventricular septal defects. Researchers indicated that the prevalence of septal heart defects was 0.9% among exposed infants, compared to 0.5% among unexposed infants.
The FDA has classified Lexapro as a pregnancy category C medication, which means it has the potential to cause serious harm to a fetus when taken during pregnancy. The FDA has also advised patients and physicians to carefully consider all benefits and risks of Lexapro before making any decisions to continue or discontinue Lexapro treatment. If you are currently taking Lexapro and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your healthcare provider immediately. It may be dangerous to discontinue use of a prescription medication without medical consent, as this may cause further harm to you or your child, but with your doctor’s help, you may be able to find a safer way to treat your condition.
Although birth defects like anal atresia can typically be treated successfully, seeking proper medical care for affected children is likely to result in costly medical expenses, which can be a serious financial burden for many families. If you or a loved one has suffered from anal atresia and you believe Lexapro to be the cause, contact an experienced Lexapro attorney to discuss your legal options. You may be entitled to reimbursement for your injuries and medical expenses, which you can collect by filing a Lexapro lawsuit against Forest Laboratories. The main goal of Lexapro lawsuits and potential Lexapro class action lawsuits is to protect the rights of the victim while also helping the victim collect the financial compensation he deserves.
While most consumers understand that no drug is 100% safe, they do assume that their prescription medication will treat their condition without causing them any unnecessary harm. However, there are a number of drugs currently on the market for which the potential risks may actually outweigh the possible benefits of the treatment. Unfortunately, these potentially dangerous drugs will remain on the market without restriction unless someone brings attention to their harmful nature. By filing a defective drug lawsuit, victims of dangerous drug injuries can bring public attention to the importance of safe medications and the need for more stringent regulations on the dangerous drugs currently on the market. With the help of a qualified Lexapro lawyer, victims of alleged Lexapro birth defects can alert the public of the potentially harmful nature of the drug, possibly preventing further pharmaceutical drug-related injury and death in the future.