In 2005, the FDA issued a public health advisory, warning that use of some SSRIs during the first three months of pregnancy could increase the risk of heart defects in some babies. Mothers who took the SSRI Zoloft during pregnancy run the risk of exposing the unborn infant to such Zoloft heart defects. These conditions are among the most common of Zoloft birth defects and vary in both presentation and severity.
Atrial Septal Defects (ASD) and Ventrical Septal Defects (VSD)
Atrial septal defects (ASD) and Ventrical septal defects (VSD) fall within the group of clinically established Zoloft birth defects.
Sometimes referred to by doctors as “holes in the heart,” Zoloft atrial septal defects and ventrical septical defects are essentially openings in the wall between either the two upper chambers of the heart, known as the atria (ASD), or the two lower chambers of the heart (VSD). The size and precise location of the “hole” may contribute to the severity of the condition. Open-heart surgery may be required to seal the hole in cases where the opening is of an unusual size or the heart becomes enlarged.
2007 Zoloft birth defects study
A 2007 study of Zoloft birth defects that appeared in the British Medical Journal found that mothers who took Zoloft during pregnancy were twice as likely to have their babies born with the Zoloft heart defect, ASD. The risk of the baby having Zoloft ASD rose even higher for mothers who began a regimen of Zoloft during the first trimester of the pregnancy.
In the fetus’ circulation, an opening usually appears in the septum (the wall between the atria) to detour blood past the lungs, whose function is not yet necessary. This opening usually closes a short time after the birth of the baby.
In babies with Zoloft ASD, however, the hole between the left and right atria remains open. Consequently, blood passes from the left atrium to the right atrium, causing increased blood flow to the lungs.
Zoloft ventrical septal defects (VSD) on the other hand, presents a slightly different problem. The “hole” in this scenario allows blood to pass between the venticles. As a result, the left ventricle receives oxygen from the lungs, the right ventricle does not. This means oxygen-rich blood mixes with oxygen-poor blood, which strains the heart and lungs.
Complications associated with Zoloft heart defects
In most cases, Zoloft ASDs and VSDs present manageable complications. However, babies with Zoloft heart defects run an increased risk of further complications, such as heart failure, pulmonary overcirculation, pulmonary hypertension, stroke, and atrial fibrillation, which would develop only in an adult.
Long-term side effects of Zoloft heart defects include:
- heart and lung damage
- high blood pressure in the lungs
- heart failure
Symptoms of Zoloft heart defects:
- difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- multiple respiratory infections such as pneumonia, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath
Treatment of Zoloft ASD and VSD birth defects
A Zoloft ventricular septal defect is often detected during a regular physical exam. The blood that passes through the septum produces additional noise, called a heart murmur, which can be heard through a stethoscope. Other symptoms of a VSD include cold extremities, weak pulse, shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat. Children who are not getting sufficient oxygen because of a VSD may also exhibit bluish skin. Some children with VSDs must be monitored throughout their childhood and may have restrictions on their activities. In rare cases, a Zoloft VSD may be severe enough to become a potentially life threatening condition, particularly if it is not diagnosed and treated early on.
One treatment for Zoloft ASD is cardiac catherization, which involves the insertion of a thin plastic tube, or catheter, into a blood vessel in the groin or leg and led up through the body and into the heart. The catheter is then used to adhere a small implant to the septum, sealing the hole between the atria. Over time, the tissue of the heart grown over the artificial device, hiding it and locking it in place.