A CDC study of almost 28,000 women has shown links between use of the antidepressants Paxil and Prozac and birth defects, Reuters reports. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, sought to answer long-debated questions about the effect of taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, during pregnancy, and whether the entire class of drugs or only certain SSRIs presented a risk, the news agency notes. Off the hook (at least according to this study): Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro. In a survey, researchers asked the participants if they had taken any of those five antidepressants from one month before conception through the third month of pregnancy, then looked at women who ended up having children with birth defects. Only women who took Prozac (generic name fluoxetine) and Paxil (paroxetine) showed increased risk, with birth defects occurring 2 to 3.5 times more frequently than women who didn't take those drugs.
Prozac was linked to a defect in which children's skulls were misshapen, while Paxil was associated with a defect in which the intestines poke outside the body, as well as missing parts of the brain and skull, the study notes; both were also tied to a heart defect. But the study's lead author tells NPR that the overall risk is still not huge (e.g., the risk for brain and skull malformation crept up from 2 to 7 out of 10,000 births when paroxetine was used), and she stresses the study only shows a link—it doesn't prove the meds actually caused the defects. Eli Lilly, which distributes Prozac, tells ABC News that it puts its drugs through rigorous evaluations and that Prozac is "considered as having a positive benefit-risk profile for patients by regulatory authorities and physicians around the world." GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Paxil, says its warning labels tell doctors to warn patients about risks and "that for some the benefits of therapy may continue to outweigh the potential risk."