WEDNESDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A group representing America's obstetricians is recommending that women avoid the antidepressant Paxil if they are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, due to a potential heightened risk for birth defects.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also cautioned that treatment with other antidepressants should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
ACOG's Committee on Obstetric Practice "recommends that treatment with all SSRIs [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors] or selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors or both during pregnancy be individualized and paroxetine [Paxil] use among pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant be avoided, if possible," read the statement, which is in the December issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The guidelines come a full year after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about possible birth defects associated with Paxil when the drug is taken during the first trimester of pregnancy.
This warning was based on two studies. The first found about a 2 percent risk of heart defects in babies born to mothers who took Paxil early in their pregnancy, compared with a 1 percent risk in the general population.
The second study found that the risk of heart defects was 1.5 percent in babies whose mothers took Paxil in the first three months of pregnancy, compared with 1 percent in babies whose mothers took other antidepressants in the first trimester. The most common defects were cardiovascular.
"Since the FDA warnings a year ago, most ob/gyns have been trying to avoid Paxil during pregnancy," noted Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "This is just a formal statement by ACOG."
The initial FDA warning came in September of 2005. In December of the same year, the FDA instructed Paxil's maker, GlaxoSmithKline, to reclassify the drug from a Category C to D (a stronger warning) for pregnant women. Category D means studies in pregnant women have demonstrated a risk to the fetus.
Other reports had indicated that SSRIs, the category of antidepressants which includes Paxil as well as Celexa, Prozac and Zoloft, may cause newborns to have withdrawal symptoms.
ACOG acknowledged that these potential problems must be weighed against yet another study which found that pregnant women who discontinue their antidepressant medication are five times more likely to relapse into depression than women who continue with the medication.
"Untreated depression has its own risks, including low weight gain, alcohol and substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases, all of which have negative maternal and fetal health implications," the statement said.
Women of reproductive age have the highest prevalence of major depressive disorders, with ACOG experts estimating that about 1 in 10 will experience a bout of major or minor depression sometime during pregnancy or the postpartum period.
Ideally, these issues should be considered before a woman becomes pregnant, the ACOG panel said. But, given that about half of all pregnancies are not planned, many decisions regarding treatment will inevitably happen after the woman has conceived. Fetal echocardiography, which looks for heart trouble, should be considered for women who were exposed to Paxil in early pregnancy, the statement recommended.
"Women who have certain health problem such as depression really should try to plan their pregnancies with their ob/gyn and psychiatrist," Wu confirmed. "The major danger will be to women who have an unplanned pregnancy and don't realize it until they're two months along. There's a lot of organ development during that time, and exposure to certain SSRIs may pose some dangers."