Seattle, WA By Heidi Turner: When it comes to Effexor side effects, there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not babies are at risk of Effexor birth defects when exposed to the antidepressant prior to birth. For women who have had a so-called Effexor pregnancy, there may be some concern about whether or not their infants have been exposed to heart defects or other serious health problems. Now, a recently published study suggests that antidepressants similar to Effexor could increase the risk of having a baby diagnosed with autism.
The study was published online in the Archives of General Psychiatry (11/11), and studied whether or not prenatal exposure to antidepressant medications was linked to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Researchers used the medical records of 298 children with autism spectrum disorder and 1,507 randomly selected control children. What they found was that there was double the risk of autism spectrum disorder when the mother was treated with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) during the 12 months prior to delivery. This risk increased further when the SSRI was used during the first trimester.
Researchers also examined cases in which the mother had a history of mental health treatment but no prenatal exposure to SSRI medications. In that instance, they found no increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. This finding means that it is more likely that the use of the antidepressants, rather than the depression itself, is associated with autism spectrum disorder.
"Although the number of children exposed prenatally to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors in this population was low, results suggest that exposure, especially during the first trimester, may modestly increase the risk of ASD," researchers concluded. They noted that further studies are needed to confirm the findings and that there is risk to the fetus when the mother has untreated mental health disorders.
Effexor is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), which is similar to SSRI medications, but not identical. SSRI medications act solely on serotonin levels, while SNRIs act on serotonin and norepinephrine. It is not clear whether findings from the SSRI study are applicable to SNRI medications, although it is possible because SSRI medications tend to have similar side effects to SNRIs.
Women who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant should not discontinue any antidepressant medication without speaking to a medical professional.