Pregnant women warned about Paxil

The popular antidepressant is linked to heart problems in newborns, the FDA cautions.

Published December 9, 2005 3:39PM (EST)

Broadsheet public service announcement: Pregnant women should avoid the antidepressant Paxil, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned Thursday.

The agency said that the drug should "usually not be taken during pregnancy" because early results of two studies found that women who took it in the first trimester were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to give birth to a baby suffering from heart defects, the Washington Post reported.

Yet, the FDA also cautioned that women taking the drug shouldn't just go off Paxil cold turkey, but should consult with their doctor about gradually switching to another antidepressant. Paxil, known generically as paroxetine, is one of the world's most popular antidepressants, taken by tens of millions of people. About 25 percent of those who take it are women of childbearing age, according to GlaxoSmithKline, the company that manufacturers it.

Most of the birth defects associated with the antidepressant heal on their own or can be treated with surgery. And some doctors worry that women who really need treatment for depression will be scared off by the FDA news. "Depression is still undertreated," Kimberly Yonkers, a psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine, told the Post. "Pregnant women in particular are immensely undertreated, and you worry about people being unduly frightened."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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