Zoloft® and PPHN
Scientific evidence shows that taking Zoloft® (sertraline) during pregnancy increases the risk of certain birth defects in the unborn child, including persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN). If your baby is born with PPHN or another birth defect and you were treated with Zoloft® while you were pregnant, contact us for help.
What is Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn?
PPHN develops in a newborn when the respiratory system is not ready to function properly. During gestation, the fetus receives oxygen through the umbilical cord and it is distributed through a fetal blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. When the child is born, under normal circumstances, the lungs begin to function providing oxygen to the body and the fetal blood vessel closes itself off within a day. PPHN is high blood pressure and poor respiration caused by the failure of this transition during the early hours of the neonate's life.
PPHN and Zoloft®
A study conducted on Zoloft® pregnancy safety and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 concluded that infants born to women who were taking Zoloft® during pregnancy were at higher risk for birth defects than children born to mothers who were not being treated with the drug. Specifically, the study showed that women taking Zoloft® (sertraline) or one of three other SSRI antidepressants during the last 20 weeks of a pregnancy were six times more likely to give birth to a child with PPHN.
The product warning information for Zoloft® printed by the manufacturer Pfizer Inc. addresses the issue of SSRI birth defects with this statement:
"Exposure during late pregnancy to SSRIs may have an increased risk for persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)… In a retrospective case-control study of 377 women whose infants were born with PPHN and 836 women whose infants were born healthy, the risk for developing PPHN was approximately six-fold higher for infants exposed to SSRIs after the 20th week of gestation compared to infants who had not been exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy."
Symptoms and Complications of PPHN
PPHN occurs when the ductus arteriosus does not close off but continues to operate, diverting blood from the heart and lungs, and causing high blood pressure. In addition to the high blood pressure, the respiratory system is denied the oxygenated blood it needs to circulate and the child suffers from oxygen deprivation. Sometimes this condition corrects itself and sometimes it requires surgery.
Symptoms for PPHN include:
- Shallow and rapid breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Low oxygen levels in the blood
The lack of oxygen in the bloodstream may persist even when the child is receiving oxygen treatment. This may result in cyanosis, a condition characterized by a blue tint to the newborn's skin.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of respiratory difficulty in a newborn is usually a clear and immediate process. Connecting it to PPHN may involve a close analysis of treatment impact. Newborns that may have breathing problems are immediately put on a respirator, which helps the breathing process and provides 100 percent oxygen to the child. Often a chest X-ray is taken to determine the lung development and condition of the heart.
A newborn that continues to have low blood levels of oxygen, even when receiving pure oxygen via the respirator is a prime candidate for a PPHN diagnosis. Treatment initially includes the use of the oxygen mask, which may be followed by the use of a ventilator, a tube inserted down the windpipe to provide oxygen directly to the lungs and effectively take over the breathing process.
Contact a Zoloft® Birth Defect Attorney
PPHN has been identified as a Zoloft® birth defect based on clinical studies and persistent reports channeled to the FDA of serious adverse events associated with the drug. If you took Zoloft® (sertraline) during pregnancy and gave birth to a child with PPHN, you may be eligible for compensation. Contact our offices today for a free consultation with an experienced Zoloft® birth defect attorney who will review your case with you in detail.