Effexor belongs to a group of prescription antidepressant medications called SNRIs, or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. These drugs work by inhibiting the “reuptake” of serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for affecting mood. These drugs are similar in nature to SSRI antidepressants, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which act upon serotonin alone to relieve depression and improve certain mood disorders. The active ingredient in Effexor is venlafaxine, and the drug was approved by the FDA in 1993 for the treatment of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. Effexor is currently manufactured by drug company Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, now a division of Pfizer, Inc.
In 2007, Effexor was the sixth most commonly prescribed antidepressant on the U.S. market with 17.2 million prescriptions filled. Regardless of its popularity though, the safety of Effexor and other antidepressant drugs, especially in treating pregnant women, may be re-evaluated upon the release of new research. According to a number of studies, women who take certain antidepressant drugs during pregnancy may significantly increase their chances of giving birth to infants with one or more major birth defects, including limb defects.
Limb defects are characterized by the failure of an entire upper or lower limb, or a portion of a limb, to form properly in utero. This type of malformation can present in any number of ways, including the complete absence of a limb, undergrowth (the limb is smaller than normal), overgrowth (the limb is larger than normal), failure to separate (webbed fingers or toes), duplication (extra fingers or toes), or constriction band syndrome (a constricting band of tissue forms around the limb, restricting blood flow and tissue growth).
One of the most common types of limb defects is club foot, a malformation in which one or both of a child’s feet are smaller than normal and internally rotated at the ankle. Although club foot is relatively painless at birth, the defect can worsen over time and become an extremely debilitating condition later in life. Without treatment, an affected child may begin to walk on the ankles or outsides of the feet, causing large sores or callouses to form. The child may also suffer from restricted calf muscle growth and an awkward gait.
There are a number of different surgical methods available for correcting limb defects, which depend largely upon the type and severity of the malformation. Specific treatment will also depend upon the child’s age and overall health, the child’s tolerance for certain medications and procedures, and expectations for the course of the condition. Regardless of these factors though, the main goal of limb defect treatment is to restore the appearance and function of the affected limb, or to facilitate adaptation if the malformation cannot be repaired.
Although the majority of antidepressant birth defect studies have focused primarily on SSRI drugs in particular, the similarity between these drugs and SNRIs may allow experts to examine the results of SSRI studies to evaluate the potentially harmful nature of SNRIs like Effexor. In 2006, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study in which researchers found a six-times increased risk of PPHN among infants exposed to certain antidepressants during pregnancy. PPHN, or persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, is a severe heart and lung condition in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the body of its oxygen supply.
The NEJM published two additional studies in 2007; in the first, researchers determined that infants whose mothers took certain 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 cleft palate, cleft lip and neural tube birth defects. The second study indicated that infants exposed to certain antidepressants in utero were more than twice as likely to be born with life-altering malformations like anencephaly, craniosynostosis and omphalocele.
In 2010, the American Journal of Nursing published a study in which researchers sought to examine the adverse effects of antidepressants on infants whose mothers took the drugs while pregnant. According to the report, infants exposed to certain antidepressant drugs during pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to be born with serious heart defects, particularly atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects.
Effexor has been classified by the FDA as a pregnancy category C medication, which means it has the potential to cause serious harm to a human fetus when taken during pregnancy. Shortly after the 2006 NEJM study was released, the FDA issued a public health advisory warning patients and healthcare providers about the potential connection between the use of SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy and PPHN. The FDA has also since required all SSRI sponsors to update their drug warning labels to include potential pregnancy precautions, namely PPHN.
If you are currently taking Effexor and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician as soon as possible to discuss alternative treatment options. 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 way to treat your condition.
While limb defects can typically be treated successfully with surgery, the medical expenses resulting from this treatment can be an overwhelming burden for many affected families. If you or a loved one has suffered from a limb defect and you believe Effexor to be the cause, contact an Effexor attorney to discuss your legal options. You may be entitled to reimbursement for your injuries, medical expenses, and pain and suffering, which you can collect by filing an Effexor lawsuit against Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Defective drug lawsuits also bring public attention to the potentially harmful nature of certain drugs, which may help avoid injury, illness and even death in the future.
You are not at fault for any serious injuries sustained during the proper use of a dangerous drug. Drug manufacturing companies like Wyeth are responsible for the safety of their medications even after they enter the market, and should be held accountable for any adverse side effects caused by their products. Unfortunately, many pharmaceutical companies deny liability for defective drug injuries in an attempt to avoid negative consequences, such as a drug recall. Not only does this deceptive practice prevent injury victims from receiving the financial compensation they deserve, but it also puts millions of consumers unknowingly at risk of suffering serious injuries as a result of simply taking their prescription medications. The only way for victims of alleged Effexor birth defects to protect their rights and collect the compensation they are entitled to, is to hire an experienced Effexor lawyer to represent their case.