Paxil alert for pregnant women

The antidepressant is deemed risky for mothers-to-be and their babies.

Published December 1, 2006 6:51PM (EST)

It's bad enough that pregnant women are already at a higher risk for being murdered, now they've been told they can't take the medicine that might alleviate the depression that sometimes accompanies pregnancy (and the knowledge that you're at a higher risk of being murdered). Yesterday, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced that the popular antidepressant Paxil may double a pregnant woman's risk of having a baby with serious birth defects.

Now, women on antidepressants have one more thing to worry about. Previous studies have shown that SSRIs like Paxil, Zoloft and Prozac taken late in pregnancy lead to increased short-term complications in newborns. The drugs also pass into breast milk with unknown consequences. In October, the first lawsuit of what appears to be many on the horizon was filed on behalf of a baby born with a life-threatening lung disorder. The suit charged that GlaxoSmithKline failed to provide sufficient warnings as studies revealed that taking the drug carried serious risks for developing fetuses.

But knowledge is power, forewarned is forearmed, right? Well, hate to rain on your serotonin parade, but as the Associated Press article points out, all this cautionary evidence won't necessarily keep women from using the drug. Since reproductive-age women have the highest prevalence of major depressive disorders, some women may decide the benefits of the Paxil pill-popping diet outweigh the risks. That may be true in extreme cases, but it's also hard not to consider how the medical establishment has historically treated pregnant women like society's lab rats. Dare I say ... thalidomide? As much as I want to think things have changed, its sobering to read the weakly worded new warnings that Glaxo has issued to the doctors who prescribe the drug. According to Medicine Net, in a letter to doctors, Glaxo said "it was 'difficult' to determine whether Paxil caused those birth defects and cited studies with different results." Considering about 25 percent of Paxil users are women of childbearing age, it's no wonder Glaxo is choosing its words carefully.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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