Heart Defects - Consumer Justice Foundation

Heart Defects

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Celexa and Heart Defects

Celexa (citalopram) is one of a group of prescription antidepressant medications called SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These drugs function by restoring the balance of serotonin in the brain, thereby relieving depression and improving certain mood disorders. Celexa, currently manufactured by Forest Laboratories, garnered FDA approval in 1998 for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Although this is the only approved use for citalopram (Celexa), the drug is often prescribed for off-label purposes as well, including the treatment of panic disorder, anxiety, certain eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Despite the fact that Celexa has become one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications on the market, the safety of the drug, especially in treating pregnant women, has been questioned in recent years. According to a number of credible studies, women who take SSRI antidepressants like Celexa during pregnancy may significantly increase their risk of giving birth to infants with major birth defects, including life-threatening heart defects.

Heart Defects Described

A congenital heart defect is a malformation involving the incomplete or abnormal development of the heart during the early stages of pregnancy. Heart defects can obstruct the flow of blood in the heart or cause blood to flow through the heart in an irregular manner. While some heart defects are minor and may go undetected throughout the affected individual’s life, others are more serious and may require immediate treatment, sometimes followed by long-term medical care. In fact, more than half of infants born with a heart defect require treatment for the condition, typically surgery. Unfortunately, heart defects are among the most common birth defects and are also the leading cause of birth defect-related death among infants.

Ventricular Septal Defects

A ventricular septal defect is a hole in the wall of the heart separating the right and left ventricle, which is characterized by symptoms like:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Paleness
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Shortness of breath

Some ventricular septal defects are small and may even close on their own as the child’s heart continues to develop after birth. Other defects are large and may allow an excessive amount of blood to be pumped to the lungs, potentially leading to heart failure. Some of the complications associated with ventricular septal defects include aortic insufficiency, heart failure, delayed development, pulmonary hypertension, heart arrythmias, and death.

Atrial Septal Defects

An atrial septal defect is a hole in the wall of the heart which separates the upper chambers of the heart, called the atria. Atrial septal defects allow oxygenated blood from the left atria to mix with oxygen-poor blood from the right atria, and in serious instances, may cause an excessive amount of blood to be pumped to the lungs. Common symptoms of atrial septal defects are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent respiratory infections

Although many defects of this kind are small and may never be detected, others are large and have the potential to cause serious cardiovascular complications for an affected child. Infants born with an atrial septal defect have an increased risk of suffering from stroke, heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and even death.

Congenital Heart Disorder – Shone’s Complex

Shone’s complex is a type of congenital heart disease characterized by multiple malformations which interfere with the flow of blood from the left side of the heart to the rest of the body. Children born with this condition may begin to exhibit symptoms of congestive heart failure as early as the first week of life. Few affected infants remain asymptomatic, and most will present symptoms no later than early childhood. Common symptoms of Shone’s complex include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain from water retention
  • Swelling in the lower extremities
  • Poor oral intake
  • Failure to thrive
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmur
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Paleness

Shone’s complex occurs when the heart structures fail to develop properly in utero, which can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications. Although advancements in medicine have improved the chances of survival for children with this condition, the overall outlook is still poor. Even after undergoing reconstructive surgery to correct the defect, many affected infants suffer from infection, heart block, stroke, and heart failure.

Potential Celexa Birth Defects and FDA Warnings

In 2006, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and healthcare professionals about the potential connection between the use of SSRIs like Celexa and PPHN, or persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. PPHN is an extremely serious heart and lung condition in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the body’s organs and tissues of oxygen. This FDA warning was released shortly after the publication of a revealing SSRI birth defect study in the New England Journal of Medicine that same year. According to the study, infants whose mothers took an SSRI like Celexa after the twentieth week of pregnancy had a six-times increased risk of being born with PPHN, compared to infants whose mothers took no antidepressants while pregnant. Since these findings were published, the FDA has also required all SSRI sponsors to update their drug warning labels to include potential pregnancy precautions, including PPHN.

Two other SSRI birth defect studies have been published in recent years and have revealed additional dangers which may be associated with these antidepressant drugs. According to a study published in the American Journal of Nursing, women who took SSRIs like Celexa while pregnant were nearly twice as likely to give birth to infants with a septal heart defects than women who took no antidepressants during pregnancy (0.9% prevalence compared to 0.5%). Another study published in the journal Pediatrics found a possible connection between the use of SSRIs like Celexa during pregnancy and adverse effects among exposed infants, including problems with alertness, unusual sleeping patterns, delays in neurological development, and abnormal heart rhythms.

Celexa Use While Pregnant

Celexa has been classified by the FDA as a pregnancy category C medication, which means it has the potential to cause significant, unreasonable harm to a human fetus when taken during pregnancy. If you are currently taking Celexa and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your healthcare provider immediately. You should never stop taking a prescription medication without medical consent, as this can cause further damage. However, with the help of your physician, you may be able to research and choose a safer method of treatment for your condition.

A Celexa Attorney Can Help

Heart defects are among the most common, and most dangerous, birth defects and may have a strong connection to the use of certain antidepressant drugs, like Celexa. According to national statistics, approximately one-fifth to one-quarter of pregnant women experience some form of depression during pregnancy, for which they are often prescribed the most popular kind of antidepressants on the market, SSRIs like Celexa. In fact, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, over 80,000 pregnant women are prescribed SSRI antidepressant medications in any given year. If you or a loved one has suffered from a heart defect and you believe Celexa to be the cause, contact an experienced Celexa attorney immediately. You may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, which you can collect by filing a Celexa lawsuit against Forest Laboratories.

Victims of serious injuries resulting from the use of a potentially dangerous drug are not at fault. Drug manufacturing companies are responsible for producing safe and effective medications, and should be held accountable for any adverse side effects sustained by consumers of their products. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies intentionally conceal the harmful nature of their drugs in order to avoid negative consequences, such as a drug recall. The only way consumers affected by a defective drug injury can protect their rights and receive the reimbursement they deserve is to hire a qualified Celexa lawyer to represent their case.

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