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Pregnant women who took popular antidepressants including Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa were more likely to give birth to babies with a potentially fatal lung condition, according to a study published Feb. 9 2006 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The condition, called persistent pulmonary hypertension, or PPHN, occurred six times more often among newborns whose mothers took the antidepressants during the second half of pregnancy.

While rare, the lung condition is very serious. According to one report, some 10 to 20 percent of infants with PPHN die even if they receive treatment. Many others suffer severe injuries such as major brain abnormalities and hearing loss.

In addition, the maker of Paxil, GlaxoSmithKline, on May 12, 2006, said that new analysis from clinical trials showed the anti-depressant appeared to raise the risk of suicide among women younger than 30. The company sent letters informing doctors of the suicide risk and advised them to closely monitor patients using Paxil.

One official with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called the latest study results "very worrisome." Dr. Sandra L. Kweder said the FDA would research its own database for evidence of a correlation between antidepressants and persistent pulmonary hypertension and consider whether to mandate product warning labels.

The antidepressant study included 377 women whose infants suffered PPHN and 836 whose infants did not have the ailment, then compared medications taken by the women. The study found that infants were 6.1 times more likely to have suffered PPHN if their mothers had taken the antidepressants after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Prozac is manufactured by Eli Lilly, Zoloft by Pfizer, Paxil by GlaxoSmithKline, and Celexa by Forest Laboratories. There are also a number of generic equivalents for several of the drugs on the worldwide market. (Note: The FDA had warned previously that Paxil may increase the risk of certain heart problems among infants exposed to the medication during pregnancy.)

The antidepressants cited in the study are all serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, or SSRI drugs, which work in the brain by prolonging the action of the mood-related messenger chemical serotonin.

The medications are commonly prescribed. Sales of Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil combined reached roughly $7.5 billion in 2005. Prozac alone has been prescribed to an estimated 35 million people since it hit the market some 20 years ago.

It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women suffer bouts of depression during pregnancy and at least one in 10 take antidepressants.

Pregnant women taking the antidepressants were advised to consult with their doctors and not to simply discontinue the medicine since suddenly stopping antidepressant therapy can cause negative withdrawal effects.

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