PPHN - Consumer Justice Foundation

PPHN and Lexapro

Lexapro, manufactured by Forest Laboratories, is a prescription antidepressant medication which falls into the category of SSRI drugs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Lexapro and other SSRIs work by restoring the balance of serotonin in the brain, thereby relieving depression and improving certain mood disorders. The active ingredient in Lexapro is escitalopram, and the drug garnered FDA approval in 2002. Since its introduction, Lexapro has been used to treat individuals suffering from major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Although Lexapro and other SSRI drugs have become increasingly popular in recent years, a number of studies have raised concerns about the safety of these medications, especially in treating pregnant women. According to credible sources like the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Nursing, women who take Lexapro and other SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy may significantly increase their chances of giving birth to infants with one or more major birth defects, including PPHN.

PPHN Symptoms

Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, or PPHN, is an extremely serious birth defect in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth. When the child is still in the womb, the lungs aren’t required in the exchange of oxygen because the placenta provides the baby with the oxygen it needs through the umbilical cord. This means that the lungs don’t need much blood supply and the baby’s circulation will bypass the lungs until birth. Once the child is born, the body adapts to breathing outside the womb and the lungs fill with air. However, in children born with PPHN, the body fails to adapt properly, and the circulation continues to bypass the lungs. This prevents the rest of the body from receiving the supply of oxygen it needs in order to remain healthy. Although children with PPHN are able to breathe, the oxygen in the breathed air will not reach the bloodstream to be distributed to the body’s vital organs and tissues. Common symptoms of PPHN include rapid breathing, cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin), rapid heart rate, respiratory distress, low oxygen levels, and sometimes a heart murmur.

PPHN Treatment and Prognosis

Without an adequate supply of oxygen, an affected child’s organs will become damaged and eventually begin to malfunction and die. In order to prevent this from happening, children born with PPHN require immediate medical treatment. Common treatment methods for PPHN include 100% supplemental oxygen, assisted ventilation, nitric oxide treatment, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) in extreme cases. With early and aggressive treatment, some cases of PPHN can be effectively treated and can even be reversed. Unfortunately, some children will continue to deliver an insufficient amount of oxygen to the rest of their body, potentially resulting in complications like heart failure, brain hemorrhages, shock, seizures, kidney failure, and sometimes even death.

FDA Warnings and Lexapro Birth Defect Studies

Only four years after Lexapro entered the market, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and physicians about the increased risk of PPHN among infants exposed to SSRIs like Lexapro in utero. This notice was issued in response to information provided by the New England Journal of Medicine in a study published that same year (2006). According to this study, infants born to women who took an SSRI like Lexapro during the third trimester of pregnancy were an alarming six times more likely to be born with PPHN. Researchers indicated that up to twelve out of 1,000 infants exposed to an SSRI in utero developed PPHN, compared to the expected rate among the general population, which is one to two out of 1,000 infants. This study directly influenced the FDA’s decision to require all SSRI sponsors to change prescribing information to include the potential risk for PPHN.

The following year, the NEJM published two additional SSRI birth defect studies, the first of which determined that infants whose mothers took an SSRI during the first trimester of pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to develop birth defects like limb defects, club foot and anal atresia. Researchers also found a connection between SSRIs and cleft palate, cleft lip and neural tube birth defects. According to the second study, infants born to women who took an SSRI like Lexapro while pregnant were more than twice as likely to be born with catastrophic birth defects like anencephaly, craniosynostosis and omphalocele.

In 2010, the American Journal of Nursing published a study which found that infants exposed to SSRI drugs like Lexapro in utero were nearly twice as likely to be born with heart defects, including atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects. According to the report, the prevalence of septal heart defects among infants whose mothers took an SSRI while pregnant was 0.9%, compared to the prevalence among unexposed infants, which was 0.5%.

Lexapro Use While Pregnant

The FDA has classified Lexapro as a pregnancy category C medication, which means the drug has the potential to cause harm to a human fetus when taken during pregnancy. Because of this possible danger, the FDA has advised physicians to avoid prescribing Lexapro to pregnant women unless the possible benefits of the treatment outweigh the potential risks to the fetus. If you are currently taking Lexapro and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your healthcare provider immediately. It is never encouraged to discontinue use of a prescription medication without medical consent, as this may cause further harm to you or your child. However, with your doctor’s aid, you may be able to find a safer way to treat your condition.

A Lexapro Attorney Can Help

Lexapro and other SSRI antidepressants have the potential to cause serious harm to innocent children when taken during pregnancy, possibly robbing them of their right to a happy, healthy life. Unfortunately, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 80,000 pregnant women are prescribed SSRIs like Lexapro in the United States in any given year. This may be due to the fact that many women are uninformed of the potential dangers of taking Lexapro during pregnancy. If you or a loved one has suffered from PPHN and you believe Lexapro to be the cause, contact a Lexapro attorney to discuss the benefits of filing a Lexapro lawsuit against Forest Laboratories.

The goal of Lexapro lawsuits and potential Lexapro class action lawsuits is to seek financial compensation for your injuries, the medical expenses resulting from injury treatment, and the pain and suffering endured by you and your family. Besides causing physical pain for an affected child, birth defects like PPHN can also result in financial and emotional distress for the victim and his family. Pharmaceutical medications should not cause unnecessary harm to consumers; unfortunately, there are some drugs currently on the market for which the potential risks of the treatment actually outweigh the possible benefits. By hiring a qualified Lexapro lawyer, victims of alleged Lexapro birth defects can collect the compensation they are entitled to and bring public attention to the potential dangers of Lexapro treatment.

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