Lexapro belongs to a class of prescription antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These drugs work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain, thereby relieving depression and improving certain mood disorders. Lexapro (escitalopram) was approved by the FDA in 1992 and is currently manufactured by Forest Laboratories. Since its introduction, Lexapro has been approved for the treatment of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Regardless of the fact that Lexapro has become one of the more popular antidepressant drugs on the market, recent research has identified Lexapro use during pregnancy as a potential risk factor for the development of major birth defects among infants. According to several birth defect studies, women who take Lexapro while pregnant may significantly increase their risk of giving birth to infants with serious birth defects, including craniosynostosis.
Craniosynostosis is a severe defect of the skull in which a child’s cranial sutures close earlier than normal. Cranial sutures are the joints that connect the different parts of the skull, contributing to the elasticity of the cranium. It is necessary for the skull to remain elastic enough to accommodate normal brain growth throughout infancy, and when these sutures close prematurely, it can result in serious consequences. When this happens, the portion of the skull containing the affected sutures will still attempt to expand, resulting in an abnormally shaped head and potentially causing further complications. There are different types of craniosynostosis, each named for the sutures involved. Sagittal synostosis is the most common type of this defect, affecting the main suture on the top of the head; frontal plagiocephaly is characterized by the closure of one side of the suture that runs from ear to ear on top of the head; metopic synotosis involves the suture close to the forehead.
Besides affecting appearance, irregular head growth can result in dangerous complications if left untreated. Without treatment, the malformation of the skull may be severe and permanent, potentially causing increased intracranial pressure, seizures, and developmental delay. Craniosynostosis is typically treated with surgery, most often performed during infancy in order to improve the appearance of the child’s head, relieve excessive pressure on the brain, and make room in the skull for future brain growth.
The FDA issued a public health advisory in 2006, warning patients and healthcare providers about the increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) among infants exposed to SSRIs like Lexapro in utero. PPHN is a severe and potentially life-threatening birth defect, and its possible connection to Lexapro and other SSRIs has been further examined by medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine. In fact, a NEJM study published in 2006 was the determining factor in the FDA’s decision to issue the advisory; researchers indicated that infants whose mothers took an SSRI like Lexapro after the twentieth week of pregnancy were a shocking six times more likely to develop PPHN, compared to unexposed infants.
The NEJM published two additional studies in 2007, the first of which identified a nearly two-fold increased risk of birth defects like club foot, limb defects and anal atresia among infants exposed to an SSRI during the first trimester of pregnancy. According to the second study, infants born to women who took an SSRI like Lexapro while pregnant were more than twice as likely to develop devastating birth defects like craniosynostosis, anencephaly and omphalocele. More recently, the American Journal of Nursing published a study in 2010 in which researchers found a nearly two-times increased risk of heart defects among infants exposed to SSRIs in utero, namely atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects. According to researchers, the prevalence of septal heart defects among exposed infants was 0.9%, compared to the prevalence among unexposed infants, which was 0.5%.
The FDA has classified Lexapro as a pregnancy category C medication, which means the drug has the potential to cause serious harm to an infant when taken during pregnancy. Unfortunately, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 80,000 pregnant women are prescribed SSRI antidepressants like Lexapro in the United States in any given year. If you are currently taking Lexapro and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician to discuss alternative treatment options. You should never stop taking a prescription medication without medical consent, but your doctor may be able to help you find a safer way to treat your condition.
Craniosynotosis is an extremely serious birth defect, which can lead to severe, life-altering complications for an affected child. Although this condition can be successfully treated, seeking proper care is likely to result in costly medical expenses, which can be an overwhelming burden for a birth defect victim and his family. If you or a loved one has suffered from a birth defect and you believe Lexapro to be the cause, contact an experienced Lexapro attorney to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file a Lexapro lawsuit against Forest Laboratories in order to seek financial compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. Defective drug lawsuits also bring much-needed attention to the allegedly harmful nature of certain drugs, potentially preventing serious injuries and death in the future.
You are not at fault for injuries caused by the proper use of a dangerous drug. Drug manufacturing companies are responsible for the safety of their medications, and should be held accountable for any adverse side effects sustained by consumers of their products. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies intentionally conceal dangerous drug information in order to avoid negative consequences such as a drug recall. This deceptive practice puts millions of consumers at risk of suffering serious injury and even death, just by taking their prescription medications. By hiring a Lexapro lawyer to represent your case, you can protect your rights, stand up to big drug companies, and collect the compensation you deserve.