Researchers link the use of antidepressants during pregnancy to persistent pulmonary hypertension, a severe lung complication in newborns.

Previous research has demonstrated that exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in utero is associated with an increased risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), but this latest study makes use of animal models to locate the biological mechanism through which this occurs.

It is estimated that as many as 15% of all women experience some form of depression during pregnancy and that ten percent of women of childbearing age are currently being treated for depression in the United States. Pregnant women experiencing the symptoms associated with depression are in need of good care. Untreated depression has been linked to complications in pregnancy and to long-term health and behavioral issues in offspring.

There is a growing body of evidence, however, that treating depression in pregnancy with antidepressant medication substantially increases the risk for complications and birth defects. For this reason, professional guidelines and physician groups recommend psychotherapy as a first-line treatment for depression symptoms in pregnant women. Nonetheless, antidepressant use during pregnancy has quadrupled since the early nineties. It is currently estimated that somewhere between 6% and 15% of all women are prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy.

Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN) is a potentially life-threatening disorder. It occurs when the respiratory system does not transition appropriately from the circulation necessary in utero to life outside the womb. Blood is prevented from reaching the lungs, depriving the body of enough oxygen. Ten to twenty percent of infants born with this condition do not survive and many others, who do survive, suffer from chronic neurodevelopmental and respiratory conditions as a result.

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