Posted by Claudia Grazioso on March 26, 2012
You know how sometimes a company will slap a “new and improved” label on something, but it’s really a familiar product that is not so new and hardly improved? The same thing happens in the pharmaceutical industry. Sometimes a new drug hits the market and everyone thinks it’s different than the drugs that came before it. But that’s not always the case. Take, for example, Symbyax, a drug that is used to alleviate treatment-resistant depression as well as depression that is a result of bipolar disorder. It’s not a commonly-known anti-depressant like Prozac or Zoloft, but how different is it?
It’s actually not different at all. Symbyax is a drug that combines an atypical antipsychotic medication (olanzapine, often marketed under the name Zyprexa), with a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (fluoxetine, often marketed under the name Prozac). While untreated bipolar disorder and depression can certainly cause problems for pregnant women, are there any special precautions expectant moms should take if their doctor prescribes Symbyax?
In a word, yes. Of course, before taking this medication, talk with your doctor about whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Symbyax has been labeled a Category C drug by the Food and Drug Administration. While no studies have been done in pregnant people, animal studies on Symbyax have produced some troubling results. These include lower birth weights, problems with skeletal ossification, growth retardation and overall higher infant mortality rates than when these drugs are taken on their own. Additionally, babies exposed to Symbyax in the last trimester are at a higher risk for being born with withdrawal symptoms that include stiffness in the muscles, tremors, breathing and feeding problems and limp muscles. Also, it’s important to remember that newborns who have been exposed to fluoxetine have sometimes suffered complications including respiratory problems that made it necessary to hospitalize them.
As for breastfeeding, both fluoxetine and olanzapine are known to cross into breast milk, so most experts advise women who are taking Symbyax to avoid breastfeeding.
While Symbyax might be a good way to treat depression in patients with bipolar disorder, it’s important for pregnant women to have an informed discussion with their doctor before taking this or any drug.