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New study absolves antidepressant medicine for pregnant women

A major new study dispels the suspicion of a correlation between antidepressant medicine taken during pregnancy and congenital heart defects. We ought to focus more on the mental health of the mother during the pregnancy, says one of the researchers behind the study.

There is no correlation between antidepressant medicine taken during pregnancy and congenital heart defects.

Several studies have previously indicated a possible correlation between antidepressant medicine taken during pregnancy and children being born with heart defects. Some have, however, also shown the opposite. One of the largest and most detailed studies now absolves antidepressant medicines, also called SSRIs.

"There are many opinions about prescribing antidepressant medicine to pregnant women, so there is a considerable need for reliable knowledge in this area. Our study, which shows that SSRI drugs do not increase the risk of congenital heart defects, therefore naturally represents extremely good news for pregnant women who take antidepressant medicine," says the author of the study, Professor, Dr. Irene Petersen from Aarhus University and University College London (UCL).

The study was carried out in collaboration with researchers from University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It is published in the recognised scientific journal Journal of Clinical Psychiatry on 27 January 2016.

One of the largest studies
In the study, researchers examined more than 200,000 pairs of women and newborn babies in the UK during the period 1990-2011. This makes the study one of the most comprehensive studies in the area every undertaken.

In contrast to previous studies, the researchers included knowledge about the women's general state of health, including factors such as smoking, overweight, alcohol and drug abuse. They also compared different groups of women who either took or did not take SSRI drugs before and during pregnancy, as well as women who took other types of antidepressant medicine during pregnancy. 

"By digging a little deeper than previous studies, we can see that the risk of congenital heart defects does not have any correlation with the use of antidepressant medicine, but is rather due to factors such as diabetes, overweight, alcohol and drug abuse," says Irene Petersen and adds:

"Of course it is important to be aware of this knowledge when you have to decide whether to continue with antidepressant medicine during pregnancy."

Previous studies carried out by Irene Petersen's research team have shown that four out of five women stop taking antidepressant medicine when they become pregnant. She emphasises that opting not to take antidepressant medicine during pregnancy can do more harm than good:

"We know from an American study that up to seventy per cent of pregnant women who stop taking antidepressant medicine have relapses and suffer a depression again, which may also have serious consequences. So it is important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages before you stop taking antidepressant medicine during pregnancy," says Irene Petersen.

Facts about the study

· The study was carried out on the basis of data from general practice in the UK for children born during the period between 1 January 1990 and 31 January 2011.

· A total of 209,135 pairs of British women and children were included in the study.

· Less than one per cent of the children were diagnosed as having congenital heart defects within the first five years of childhood.

· There was no significant difference in the incidence of children with congenital heart defects among the women who took antidepressant medicine during pregnancy and those women who did not take antidepressant medicine during pregnancy.

· There was an increased risk of giving birth to children with congenital heart defects in pregnant women with diabetes and women who had previously had alcohol and drug abuse, and who were also overweight (with a BMI>30). 


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Professor, Dr Irene Petersen
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
University College London, England.
Telephone: (+44) 7904 367 887
Email: Irene.Petersen@clin.au.dk