Lexapro belongs to a class of prescription antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These drugs function by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for affecting mood. By doing so, Lexapro and other SSRIs can effectively relieve depression and improve certain mood disorders. The active ingredient in Lexapro is escitalopram, and the drug was approved by the FDA in 2002. Since its introduction to the market, Lexapro has been prescribed to millions of individuals suffering from major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The drug is currently manufactured by pharmaceutical company, Forest Laboratories.
In recent years, Lexapro and other SSRI antidepressants have become increasingly popular for the treatment of depression and other mood-related medical disorders. In fact, between 2002 and 2005, the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled increased from 154 million to 170 million, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Lexapro in particular has risen in the ranks of antidepressants; the drug was named the second most commonly prescribed antidepressant on the market in 2007, behind Zoloft, with 29.6 million prescriptions filled. Despite the popularity of Lexapro and other SSRIs however, these medications have spurred heated debates recently about their safety in treating pregnant women. According to a number of studies, women who take SSRIs like Lexapro during pregnancy may significantly increase their risk of giving birth to infants with major birth defects, including limb defects.
Limb defects are congenital birth defects which occur when an entire limb, or portion of a limb, fails to form properly during fetal development. There are a number of different types of limb defects, which can present in several ways, including:
Club foot is one of the most common limb defects, caused by a malformation of the tendons and ligaments in the foot which occurs while the child is in the womb. Club foot causes serious abnormalities in the shape, size and position of the foot, and is diagnosed when one or both of a child’s feet are rotated inward at the ankles. Infants born with a club foot may experience severe complications, including a tightening of the Achilles tendon, a rigidity in the movement of the foot, restricted calf muscle growth, and an abnormal shape of the affected foot or feet. Fortunately, club foot is typically painless at birth. However, the condition can worsen over time, eventually forcing the child to walk on his ankles or the outside of his feet and toes, and potentially causing the development of large sores or callouses on the child’s feet.
Children born with club foot or other limb defects typically require surgery in order to repair the malformation. In some cases, the child may require the use of orthotics or a prosthetic limb in order to help the child function normally. The main goal of limb defect treatment is to restore the normal appearance and function of the affected limb to the greatest extent possible, while promoting normal development in the future. In cases where the malformation cannot be completely corrected, treatment will be aimed towards helping the child adapt to the defect and live a normal, healthy life.
A number of SSRI birth defect studies have been conducted in recent years in an attempt to evaluate the potentially harmful nature of SSRI antidepressants, including Lexapro. In perhaps the most revealing study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, researchers concluded that infants whose mothers took an SSRI like Lexapro after the twentieth week of pregnancy were a shocking six times more likely to develop persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). PPHN is an extremely serious birth defect in which a child’s circulation continues to bypass the lungs after birth, depriving the rest of the body of its oxygen supply. According to the study, up to twelve out of 1,000 exposed infants were born with PPHN, compared to the rate among the general population, which is one to two infants out of 1,000. It was only after reviewing these findings that the FDA finally issued a public health advisory in 2006, warning patients and healthcare providers about the increased risk of PPHN among infants exposed to Lexapro or other SSRIs in utero.
One year later, the NEJM published two additional studies in which researchers sought to examine the adverse effects of fetal exposure to SSRI antidepressants like Lexapro. In the first study, researchers found that infants whose mothers took an SSRI during the first trimester of pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to be born with birth defects like limb defects, club foot and anal atresia. According to the second study, infants born to women who took an SSRI while pregnant were more than twice as likely to develop devastating birth defects like anencephaly, craniosynostosis and omphalocele. In 2010, the American Journal of Nursing published a significant study in which researchers found a nearly two-fold increased risk of serious heart defects (atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects) among infants exposed to an SSRI in utero.
Lexapro has been labeled a pregnancy category C medication by the FDA, meaning the drug has the potential to cause serious harm to a fetus when taken during pregnancy. If you are currently taking Lexapro and you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your physician as soon as possible. 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 medical condition.
Although many limb defects can be treated successfully, proper birth defect treatment is likely to result in costly medical bills, which can be an overwhelming financial burden for a family already emotionally distressed by a birth defect diagnosis. If you or a loved one has suffered from a limb defect, which you believe to be associated with Lexapro, contact an experienced Lexapro attorney to discuss your legal options. You may have grounds to file a Lexapro lawsuit against Forest Laboratories, in order to seek financial compensation for your injuries and medical expenses, as well as the pain and suffering endured by you and your family. Defective drug lawsuits are also effective because they bring public attention to the importance of safe medications and the need for more strict regulations on the potentially dangerous drugs already on the market.
Victims of serious injuries resulting from the proper use of a dangerous drug are not at fault. Drug companies are expected to produce safe and effective medications, and are also expected to notify the public of any hazards potentially associated with their drugs. Unfortunately, some pharmaceutical companies intentionally withhold dangerous drug information in an attempt to avoid negative consequences, such as a drug recall. This deceptive practice exposes millions of consumers to serious injury and even death, which could have been avoided had the drug company taken the appropriate steps to avoid unnecessary harm. By hiring a qualified Lexapro lawyer, victims of alleged Lexapro birth defects can stand up to big drug companies and protect themselves from further harm. Filing a Lexapro lawsuit can be a complicated process; fortunately, Lexapro attorneys are experienced in defective drug litigation and can help victims collect the compensation they deserve.