Modern doctors heavily rely on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, to treat patients suffering from the effects of depression. This complex medication alters brain receptors to increase reabsorption of serotonin, which has a positive impact on mood and wellbeing. The chemicals in the drug can have an adverse effect on babies in the womb, however. If women continue taking this medication throughout pregnancy, the chance of autism and birth defects increases dramatically. Furthermore, certain individuals may experience a marked increase in suicidal ideation after starting this depression treatment option. With so many SSRIs available today, and 10 percent of people taking antidepressant medications, it is important to understand the variants and potential for rather severe adverse reactions.
SSRI Medication Types
Prozac was the first SSRI treatment for depression to hit pharmacy shelves in the late 1980s. With help from physicians and targeted self-help books, this drug gained in popularity and quickly became a household name.
Other popular SSRI medications include:
SSRI medications are approved for treatment of depression, but that does not prohibit doctors from prescribing them for a host of other conditions. Patients may take these medications to combat the symptoms caused by obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, eating disorders or even premature ejaculation. Due to the risk of postpartum depression, doctors were preemptively prescribing SSRI medications to pregnant women to keep both mother and child safe.
Unfortunately, doctors quickly realized their mistake in prescribing the medication to pregnant women as the prevalence of birth defects increased. The attempt to keep both parties safe and secure backfired. Studies revealed that the infants exhibit agitation, seizures and low sodium levels at birth after late exposure to these drugs. Additional reports revealed that Paxil and Prozac, in particular, increased the risk of birth defects affecting the heart wall, cranium, and abdominal wall development. Many of the studies were completed by the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities due to the high number of claims made through the patients’ pediatricians and obstetricians.
Physicians also noted an increase in autism diagnoses in children exposed to SSRIs in the womb. Studies conducted on the connection between an autism diagnosis and SSRI exposure indicate that the risk is far too high to chance to treat depression during pregnancy with this class of medications. Since an autism diagnosis does not usually occur until the child hits kindergarten age, many of the study results were delayed by at least five years. Eventually, the results indicated that risk catapulted to 87 percent when the medication was prescribed in the second or third trimester.
Suicide Danger from SSRI’s
One of the most confounding aspects of SSRI treatments for depression is their link to a higher risk of suicide. The increase of suicidal thoughts is most prevalent in children or teens undergoing treatment with SSRIs. This revelation prompted the addition of a black box warning on SSRIs warning patients of the increased chance of suicidal ideation and behavior, especially for younger groups. Although the increased risk only lasts one to two months, many doctors prefer to utilize alternative medications for their younger patients. Anyone who is experiencing an uptick in suicidal thoughts, especially while taking SSRI medications, must immediately alert their healthcare provider or caregiver to regain healthy thought patterns.
Common SSRI Side Effects
Like all medications, SSRIs have some common side effects that can plague patients throughout the treatment period. The side effects may include:
- Weight Changes
- Fatigue or Restlessness
- Skin Rashes
- Sexual Desire Fluctuations
- Dry Mouth
The side effect severity and duration vary from person to person. Many people experience a decrease in both severity and duration of side effects after remaining on SSRI medications for longer than three months. Some patients may need to try several different medications before finding the one that works best for their condition. If side effects become too bothersome, it is often wise for patients to alert their doctor to try a different dosage or alternate medication.
Upon stopping SSRIs, patients may exhibit symptoms of serotonin syndrome for several days. The symptoms may range from slight shivering to full seizures, depending on the patient’s physical brain chemistry dependence on the medication.
SSRI FDA Warnings
The FDA frequently releases warnings about the potentially life-threatening or damaging side effects caused by SSRI drugs. The first warning addressed suicidal risk, of course, but only included children and young teens. As more cases appeared, the FDA
changed the age range to include people up to 24 years old. In 2007, the FDA added warnings about birth defects, such as persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, and serotonin syndrome to the list of severe adverse reactions to this drug class.
The black box warnings for the increased suicide risk were added soon after. Physicians were forced to weigh the pros and cons of prescribing the medication to patients suffering from the symptoms of severe depression. An uptick in suicide attempts encouraged the FDA to change the warning message to give physicians improved guidance on prescribing this group of medications to youth patients. As more studies reveal the full extent of the risk of adverse reactions to SSRIs, the FDA may continue adding or revising warnings in a vain attempt to keep the public safe from harm.
With the damage from SSRIs extending across nearly age group, manufacturers frequently find themselves facing yet another lawsuit. The lawsuits hold the drug manufacturers accountable for creating an unsafe product and failing to warn the public of the dangers.
The manufacturers face the very real possibility of having to pay millions in damages to people severely injured by SSRI medications. Babies born with heart defects, and other problems stemming from SSRI exposure, potentially face a lifetime of struggle and pain. Associated lawsuit wins in the millions have to pay for ongoing medical care, special equipment, pain and suffering, the parents’ lost wages and a host of other financial losses associated with the adverse drug reaction.
Patients can file a lawsuit anytime an adverse reaction occurs to seek compensation for damages through the court system. Legal representatives will determine the patient’s chance at acquiring a positive result in court before preparing the case. Evidence showing the negligence and liability of the drug manufacturers helps patients receive the compensation they deserve for suffering through severe SSRI side effects.
Lawsuits settled years before the current case can help establish legal precedent to speed the case through the court system. The judge will always consider the details of each case to determine if the drug manufacturers are liable to cover the damages. Eventually, the lawsuits could encourage the manufacturers to alter their compounds or warning labels to keep depressed patients safe from harm.