Neural Tube Birth Defects - Consumer Justice Foundation

Neural Tube Birth Defects

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Effexor and Neural Tube Birth Defects

Antidepressant medications have become increasingly popular in recent years, as the drugs are being approved for additional indications and are even sometimes prescribed for off-label purposes when physicians deem the treatment appropriate. Antidepressants are commonly divided into two groups: SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. SNRIs function by inhibiting the “reuptake” of both serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for controlling mood, while SSRIs act upon serotonin alone. SNRIs were developed more recently than SSRIs and have shown to be slightly more effective in relieving depression and improving certain mood disorders. Effexor (venlafaxine) belongs to the SNRI class of antidepressant drugs and is currently manufactured by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a division of Pfizer, Inc.

Effexor was approved by the FDA in 1993 and has since been prescribed to individuals suffering from major depressive disorder, social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. In some cases, the drug may be effective in treating additional conditions, including diabetic neuropathy and panic disorder. Despite the fact that antidepressant drugs have become some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, recent research has suggested that these drugs may be inappropriate in the treatment of pregnant women. According to a number of studies, women who take certain antidepressants during pregnancy may have a significantly increased risk of giving birth to infants with one or more life-altering birth defects, including neural tube birth defects.

Neural Tube Birth Defects Described

Neural tube birth defects are malformations of the neural tube, a structure present during fetal development which becomes the foundation for the child’s central nervous system. The cells of the neural tube are typically fully fused by the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. However, when there is a problem during this process, a neural tube defect may occur, causing the child to be born with an opening in the spinal column or skull. Neural tube birth defects are particularly dangerous because they are often accompanied by brain or spinal cord damage, which may result in problems with learning, movement and development. Some of the most common symptoms of neural tube birth defects are paralysis, incontinence, muscle weakness, lack of concentration, lack of coordination, difficulty solving problems, allergies, and stiff joints.


One of the most devastating types of neural tube birth defects is a condition called anencephaly, in which a child is born without critical parts of the brain and skull. Infants with anencephaly are born without a forebrain, which is the largest part of the brain, and without a cerebrum, which is responsible for movement, senses and thinking. Children born with anencephaly are typically born blind, deaf, unconscious, and are unable to feel pain. Although affected infants may display reflex actions like breathing and response to sound and touch, the absence of the cerebrum makes it impossible for the child to ever regain consciousness. There is no cure for anencephaly, and any available treatment methods are strictly supportive, as children with this condition typically only survive for a few hours or days after birth.

Alleged Effexor Birth Defects

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2006 in which researchers found a strong connection between the use of certain antidepressant drugs during pregnancy and the development of PPHN among infants exposed to the drugs in utero. PPHN, or persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, is a severe birth defect in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the body of its oxygen supply. According to researchers involved in this study, infants whose mothers took SSRI antidepressants after the twentieth week of pregnancy were a shocking six times more likely to be born with PPHN.

In 2007, the NEJM published two additional studies in an attempt to examine the adverse effects of fetal exposure to certain antidepressant medications. According to the first study, infants whose mothers took SSRI antidepressants 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 connection between these drugs and neural tube birth defects, cleft lip and cleft palate. The second NEJM study determined that women who took certain antidepressants during pregnancy were more than twice as likely to give birth to infants with birth defects like omphalocele, craniosynostosis and anencephaly. Furthermore, in 2010, the American Journal of Nursing published a study in which researchers found infants exposed to certain antidepressants in utero to be nearly twice as likely to develop serious heart defects, particularly atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects.

Effexor Use While Pregnant

The FDA has classified Effexor as a pregnancy category C medication, which means the drug has the potential to cause serious harm to a fetus when taken during pregnancy. In response to the 2006 NEJM study, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and healthcare providers about the increased risk of PPHN among infants exposed to SSRI antidepressants in utero. The FDA also required all SSRI sponsors to update their drug warning labels to include potential pregnancy precautions, including PPHN. If you are currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant and you are taking Effexor, consult your physician to discuss alternative treatment options. You should never suddenly stop taking a prescription medication, as this may cause further harm to you or your child. However, with the help of your doctor, you may be able to find a safer way to treat your condition.

An Effexor Attorney Can Help

Children born with a neural tube birth defect are likely to suffer from life-altering complications as a result of the malformation, and for others, the defect may be fatal. If you or a loved one has suffered from a neural tube birth defect and you believe Effexor to be the cause, contact an Effexor attorney immediately to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file an Effexor lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Pfizer) in order to seek financial compensation for your injuries, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. By filing a defective drug lawsuit, injury victims can also bring much-needed attention to the importance of safe medications and the need for more stringent regulations on the dangerous drugs currently on the market.

Consumers expect their prescription medications to treat their condition without causing them any unreasonable harm. They also expect to be adequately informed of any dangers associated with their medications in order to make an educated decision to continue or discontinue use of the drug. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies rob consumers of this right by intentionally withholding dangerous drug information from the public. This deceptive practice is employed by drug companies in an attempt to protect themselves from negative consequences such as a drug recall, but also unnecessarily exposes millions of consumers to serious injury, illness and death. The only way for victims of alleged Effexor birth defects to stand up to big drug companies and collect the compensation they deserve is to hire a qualified Effexor lawyer to represent their case.

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