Posted by Claudia Grazioso on April 22, 2011
Effexor is a drug that is frequently prescribed to treat depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and panic disorders. It has also been used to treat Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Related to SSRI drugs like Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and Prozac, Effexor is a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), like Pristiq. Questions have been raised about whether these medications should be taken by women who are pregnant. There are no easy answers, but there are some things you should know if you are taking Effexor and are considering taking it through your pregnancy.
Like many other SSRIs and SNRIs, Effexor, also known as venlafaxine, is a Category C drug. That means that there is a potential for harm to your baby if you take it during your pregnancy. Category C means that Effexor has been shown to cause damage to developing fetuses when tested on pregnant animals, but no similar study has been done in humans.
Babies born to mothers who took Effexor throughout their pregnancies have been born with a variety of problems. Many of these Effexor birth defects have also been found in babies whose mothers took other SSRIs and SNRIs, leading some people to believe that these drugs might not be safe during pregnancy. Among the problems noted are difficulties breathing, low blood oxygen levels, seizures, cyanosis and hypoglycemia. Muscle problems have also been noted, specifically hypotonia, in which a child has very low muscle tone or appears to be “floppy;” hypertonia, in which the muscle tone and tension is increased; and hyperreflexia, or twitching and involuntary muscle spasms. Additionally, cardiac irregularities have been observed. Arrhythmias such as tachycardia (a heartbeat that is too fast or rapid) and bradycardia ( a heartbeat that is too slow) also have been noted. Most of these side effects seemed to be linked to the mother taking Effexor late in her pregnancy — in other words, into the third trimester. Additionally, a study done in Canada in 2010 suggests that the use of venlafaxine can significantly increase the risk of miscarriage.
And finally, like other SSRIs and SNRIs, there is concern that babies who exposed to Effexor late in the pregnancy may be at increased risk for Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn. PPHN is a serious condition that can be life-threatening and requires hospitalization.
Of course, there are women who have continued to take Effexor throughout their pregnancies and had healthy deliveries and healthy babies. You, and only you, with the help and guidance of your doctor, can make the decision about what is right for you. For many women, antidepressants are extremely helpful. Weigh the risks and the benefits, talk to your health care provider and make the call that is best for you and your baby.