Zoloft, also known as Sertraline Hydrochloride, is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat depression and anxiety. The drug was approved for sale in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991 and has since become one of the most widely prescribed antidepressants.
Recognizing that women are at a greatly increased risk of developing depression between the ages of 18 and 40 (child bearing age), the drug manufacturers advertised Zoloft, Paxil and other SSRIs as being safe to use during pregnancy.
In the past 5 years, however, several prominent studies have emerged suggesting that SSRIs like Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro and Prozac actually cause serious and sometimes life threatening birth defects when used during pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the thousands of expectant mothers who took Zoloft because they were told that it safe to use during pregnancy are now having to cope with the devastating physical and emotional effects of raising or losing a baby from the severe and sometimes fatal consequences of the drug.
Heart Defects & Other Serious Birth Defects Associated With Zoloft
Learn more about the birth defects that have been associated with Zoloft use During Pregnancy as below:
Congenital Heart Defects
Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
Atrial septal defects are congenital heart malformations which cause blood to flow between the right and left atria through the inter-atrial septum. A hole is formed in the wall separating the upper chambers of the heart, causing improper blood flow.
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)
Ventricular septal defects are congenital heart malformations in which the left and right ventricles are not properly separated, causing oxygen-rich blood from the left side of the heart to flow into the right side and be reintroduced back into the lungs, even though it is already oxygenated. This defect places a great deal of strain on the heart can cause the heart to enlarge
Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)
Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn describes the circulatory system’s failure to automatically kick in and begin supporting the infant following birth and physical separation from its mother. The transition allows the newborn child to live without relying on assistance from the mother’s circulatory system. PPHN results when a major blood vessel in the fetus, known as the ductus arteriosus, remains open instead of closing immediately after birth as intended. With this blood vessel open, hypertension in the infant’s lungs forces blood through the aperture and into other areas of the body before it is able to properly oxidize in the lungs. The child will be left unable to breathe and can quickly develop hypoxemia or even acidosis. Recent studies have demonstrated that mothers who took Zoloft while pregnant run a much higher risk of giving birth to a child with PPHN than mothers who did not ingest the medication.
Omphalocele and Diaphragmatic Hernias
Omphalocele and diaphragmatic hernias are congenital birth defects that cause a child’s intestines or other abdominal organs to protrude or stick out from the navel. According to studies, mothers who took Zoloft while pregnant run a heightened risk of giving birth to babies with omphalocele and diaphragmatic hernias.
Craniosynostosis is a congenital birth defect that causes sutures to prematurely close on a newborn infant’s skull. Sutures are fibrous joints that give the skull limited flexibility so that it can grow and develop with the child. Sutures that prematurely close can cause a skull to be misshapen or deformed. Mothers who took Zoloft during pregnancy have an increased risk of giving birth to babies with craniosynostosis.
Anal Atresia, also known as imperforate anus, is a congenital birth defect in which the rectum forms improperly. There are several types of Anal Atresia including:
- Persistent Cloaca: where the rectum, urinary tract and vagina or urethra are combined into one channel;
- Low Lesion: where the colon remains near to the skin; the anus is often narrowed or missing entirely with the rectum ending in a sealed pouch; and
- High Lesion: where the colon is located higher up in the pelvis; generally the bladder, rectum and urethra or vagina are connected by an opening or fistula.
Club Foot, also known as Congenital Talipes Equinovarus (CTEV), is a congenital birth defect in which one or both feet are rotated inward at the ankle.
Coarctation of the Aorta
Coarctation of the Aorta, also known as Aortic Coarctation, is a congenital birth defect in which the aorta narrows at the point where it connects with the ductus arteriosus. This condition requires the heart to work much harder in order to pump blood through this narrowed vessel. The defect is often present in combination with other heart defects and can range from mild to severe.
Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect in which the infant’s intestines protrude or stick out through a hole in the abdominal wall that forms near the umbilical cord. While similar to Omphalocele, the intestines are not covered by a membrane in the case of Gastroschisis.
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome is a congenital birth defect that causes the left side of the heart to develop improperly. As a result, the left side of the heart will be unable to send enough blood to keep the rest of the body functioning. This left-side weakness will ultimately force the right side of the heart to try and compensate. The right side can support the entire body temporarily but will inevitably fail once the strain becomes too much. Areas of the heart affected by Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome include:
- The Aorta;
- The Left Ventricle;
- The Aortic Valve; and
- The Mitral Valve.
Limb Reduction is a congenital birth defect which causes one or more of an infant’s limbs (arms or legs) to develop improperly. Limb Reduction can result in the limbs being reduced in size or missing altogether depending on the severity of the condition.
Pulmonary Atresia is a congenital heart defect in which the pulmonary valve fails to develop properly. As a result of Pulmonary Atresia, the pulmonary valve remains blocked by tissue and is unable to pump blood from the right side of the heart into the lungs so that it may oxygenate.
Pulmonary Valve Stenosis is a congenital birth defect in which the pulmonary valve is narrowed and unable to allow enough blood to flow to the lungs for oxygenation. The pulmonary valve lies between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.
Spina Bifida, also known as Myelomeningocele or cleft spine, is a congenital birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal fail to properly close prior to birth.
Tetralogy of Fallot
Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital heart defect that can cause cyanosis, a blue-purple tint to the skin resulting from a lack of oxygen. Tetralogy of Fallot is typically associated with four other malformations:
- Pulmonary Infundibular Stenosis: A narrowing of the right ventricular outflow duct.
- Overriding Aorta: Misalignment of the Aorta.
- Ventricular Septal Defect: A hole between the left and right ventricles.
- Right Ventricular Hypertrophy: A condition in which the right ventricle becomes overdeveloped.
Tranposition of the Great Arteries
Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA) is a congenital heart defect in which the two vessels largely responsible for moving blood away from the heart, the Aorta and the Pulmonary Artery, switch places. TGA is a cyanotic defect that can cause the skin to have a blue-purple tint due to decreased oxygen levels.
Studies Linking Zoloft with Heart and Other Birth Defects
Since its introduction to the U.S. market 20 years ago, Zoloft, known generically as sertraline hydrochloride, has been widely prescribed to pregnant women in order to help them cope with feelings of depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that pregnant women who are exposed to Zoloft, or other Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil, Celexa and Lexapro, run an elevated risk of giving birth to a child with a serious heart defect.
For example, in a June 28, 2007, a study printed in The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors found a disturbing link between sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft) and the development of heart defects, including atrial and ventricular septal defects, and other serious birth defects, including intestinal problems, like omphalocele and diaphragmatic hernias, limb reductions, anal atresia, and clubbed foot.
Researchers observed as much as a 100% increase in the occurrence of septal defects, right ventricular outflow tract obstructions (e.g. Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, Tetralogy of Fallot, Pulmonary Valve Stenosis, Pulmonary Atresia, etc.) and left ventricular outflow tract obstructions (e.g. Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Mitral Stenosis, Aortic Valve Stenosis, Coarctation of the Aorta, Bicuspid Aortic Valve, etc.) in mothers who took Zoloft while pregnant.