Pristiq belongs to a class of prescription antidepressant drugs called SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These drugs function by blocking the uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, two neurotransmitters responsible for controlling mood. By doing so, SNRIs like Pristiq can effectively relieve depression and improve certain mood disorders. The active ingredient in Pristiq is desvenlafaxine, a synthetic form of venlafaxine, which is a drug sold under brand names Effexor and Efexor. Pristiq is considered a next-generation antidepressant drug and was approved by the FDA in 2008 for the treatment of major depressive disorder in adults. Pristiq is currently manufactured by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, now a division of Pfizer, Inc.
Another type of antidepressant drug called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are considered some of the best-selling pharmaceutical drugs on the U.S. market. These drugs are similar to SNRIs, but act upon the neurotransmitter, serotonin, alone. However, Pristiq and other SNRI drugs are expected to surpass SSRI drugs in popularity in the near future because they have shown to be slightly more effective in treating depression. Unfortunately, according to recent research, certain antidepressant drugs may no longer be considered safe, especially in the treatment of pregnant women. A number of antidepressant side effect studies have indicated that infants whose mothers take certain antidepressant drugs during pregnancy may have a significantly increased risk of developing one or more major birth defects, including persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN).
PPHN is a severe birth defect characterized by the failure of a baby’s body to adapt to breathing outside the womb. When a child is still in utero, the lungs are not yet needed, as the placenta provides the baby with oxygen through the umbilical cord. Once the baby is born, the body “switches over” in order to properly breathe air, and the lungs now become involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, in children born with PPHN, the circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the rest of the body of oxygen. Although children with PPHN can still breathe, oxygen from the breathed air cannot reach the bloodstream to be delivered to the body’s organs and tissues.
Common symptoms of PPHN include rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, respiratory distress, heart murmurs, low oxygen levels, and cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin). There are serious complications associated with PPHN, due to the body’s inability to supply an adequate amount of oxygen to major organs. In order to prevent permanent organ damage, affected children are often treated with 100% supplemental oxygen, assisted ventilation, nitric oxide treatment, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, and Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO). Some children with PPHN can make a full recovery with prompt diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, other infants may continue to deliver an insufficient supply of oxygen to the body, potentially causing life-threatening complications like heart failure, kidney failure, shock, seizures, brain hemorrhages, and death.
Although the majority of antidepressant side effect studies have focused primarily on SSRI antidepressants, the similarities between these drugs and SNRIs like Pristiq may allow experts to use SSRI side effect information in order to evaluate the potentially harmful nature of Pristiq and other SNRI drugs. In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published what may be considered the most important antidepressant birth defect study to date. According to researchers involved in this study, fetal exposure to SSRI antidepressants was associated with a six-times increased risk of PPHN, compared to infants who were not exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy. The report indicated that up to twelve out of 1,000 infants whose mothers took an SSRI after the twentieth week of pregnancy were born with PPHN, compared to the expected rate among the general population, which is one to two infants out of 1,000. Shortly after this study was released, 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 sponsors of SSRI antidepressants to change prescribing information to include the potential risk of PPHN.
The FDA has classified Pristiq as a pregnancy category C medication, which means it has the potential to cause serious harm to a fetus when taken during pregnancy. Because of this, the FDA has advised physicians to avoid prescribing Pristiq to pregnant women unless the possible benefits of the treatment outweigh the potential risks to the fetus. If you are currently taking Pristiq and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician immediately. You should never stop taking a prescription medication without medical consent, as this may cause further harm to you or your child. However, with your doctor’s help, you may be able to find a safer alternative to Pristiq for treating your medical condition.
Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn is an extremely dangerous heart and lung condition, which could potentially cause death among affected infants. All children have the right to live a healthy and happy life. Unfortunately, birth defects rob children of this right, forcing them to struggle with debilitating complications and sometimes long-term medical treatment. If you or a loved one has suffered from PPHN and you believe Pristiq to be the cause, contact an experienced Pristiq attorney to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file a Pristiq lawsuit or Pristiq class action lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals (Pfizer), in order to seek financial compensation for your injuries, the medical expenses associated with injury treatment, and the pain and suffering sustained by you and your family.
Drug companies like Wyeth are responsible for the safety and effectiveness of their medications, even after they enter the market. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies intentionally conceal dangerous drug information from consumers, in an attempt to make their product more appealing to the public. This deceptive practice exposes millions of consumers to life-altering injury and even death, without their knowledge. Victims of dangerous drug-related injuries are not at fault; don’t hesitate to protect yourself from further harm by contacting a qualified Pristiq lawyer to represent your case.