Posted by Claudia Grazioso on December 21, 2011
When we talk about depression and anxiety, we talk a lot about Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs). But what about Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors? It seems the only time I hear about MAOIs is when they are part of a warning on the side of another medication. Apparently, there are quite a few other substances that react negatively with MAOI drugs. And that is one reason they are not prescribed as often as the more popular SSRIs or SNRIs. But MAOIs are still considered useful in treating severe depression. They have been around for a long time, so one might be tempted to consider them slightly safer as long as the drug interactions listed in the warning notices are avoided. But are MAOIs safer for pregnant women?
MAOIs, like SSRIs, affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. But MAOIs work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme known as monoamine oxidase. When that activity is reduced in the brain, the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine increase. The result is a better mood and a happier, calmer feeling.
Though MAOIs have been around longer, they haven’t been studied very thoroughly for safety during pregnancy. However, there is some evidence that they could pose a danger to the developing baby. They have been linked to lower survival rates in lab animals, and there have been reports of birth defects in babies whose mothers took MAOIs during pregnancy. Additionally, when researchers studied Phenelzine (also known as Nardil, a common MAOI) in pregnant animals, they found evidence that it could be dangerous to embryos, and that it might cause growth retardation.
Since MAOIs are usually prescribed to treat severe depression, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about whether they are a safe choice for you during your pregnancy. Of course, severe maternal depression can also have a negative impact on a developing baby’s health. Weigh your options and talk to your doctor to get some help making the choice that is right for you.