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The Depressing Truth about Zoloft

How the miracle cure turned into a nightmare

Patients suffering with depression are under a great deal of pressure: from themselves, from their family and from their community. When Zoloft was introduced in the early 1990s, many of the people who took it felt like this could have been the sure they were hoping for. But then the side effects turned out to be worse than doctors originally thought.

What is Zoloft?

Zoloft (generic: sertraline) is a pharmaceutical drug made by Pfizer. Zoloft is typically prescribed as an antidepressant for the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders. Zoloft is in a class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) were introduced as a new class of antidepressants in the late 1980s. SSRIs quickly gained extensive acceptance because they appeared to have fewer side effects than older tricyclic antidepressants. Zoloft was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1991.

Why is Zoloft unsafe?

It has been alleged that Pfizer hid the risks of severe birth defects that could result from use of Zoloft by a mother during pregnancy. Pfizer learned through animal trials that Zoloft caused severe side effects in animal fetuses. Even though Pfizer knew or should have known about the risk of birth defects, Pfizer did not warn doctors and patients of the risk. At least 137 Zoloft birth defect lawsuits have been filed in U.S. federal courthouses.

Among the most serious birth injuries caused by Zoloft are atrial septal defect (ASD), ventricular septal defect (VSD), and persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN). ASD, VSD, and PPHN are especially dangerous because they can threaten the life of the newborn and lead to a shortened life span.

Concern is growing about the connection between certain (SSRIs) and the causation or exacerbation of birth defects. According to one study conducted by the New England Journal of medicine, pregnant women who took Zoloft in the first trimester had twice the risk of delivering a baby with a heart defect. The same study found that pregnant women who took Paxil (generic: paroxetine) had more than three times the risk. A second study conducted by the University of British Columbia confirmed a tripling of heart defects in babies born to mothers who took Paxil as well as an increased risk of neural tube defects. The connection between (SSRIs) and heart defects remains a controversial issue in the medical community. Certain studies suggest that a baby’s risk of developing a heart defect is below 1% of all babies born with birth defects, and therefore outweighs the strong evidence that Zoloft and Paxil double or triple the amount of babies born with heart defects. The low number of heart defects may be outweighed by the life threatening or long-term nature of the injury to the baby.

Two FDA Advisories link Zoloft and other antidepressants to Birth Defects

A Public Health Advisory was issued by the FDA on December 8, 2005. The Advisory addressed a correlation between antidepressants and an increased risk of heart birth defects. The report was based on U.S. and Swedish studies. The report linked certain antidepressants to an increased risk of cardiac defects, including atrial and ventricular septal defects. Septal defects are present from birth (congenital) and can be life threatening. Atrial septal defects (ASD) and ventricular septal defects (VSD) are heart conditions in which there is essentially a hole in the heart. These heart defects are caused when the walls of the heart are not completely developed. The defects damage the heart and lungs. The defects can lead to a shortened life span, require surgery, or cause death. A baby with a large (VSD) or associated heart defects may have a telltale bluish tint to the skin (cyanosis) – because of oxygen-poor blood – often most visible in the lips and fingernails.

The FDA addressed another life-threatening disorder in a Public Health Advisory for Zoloft and other antidepressants released on July 19, 2006. This Advisory warned doctors and patients who are taking these drugs during pregnancy could increase the risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) of the newborn. Persistent pulmonary hypertension essentially deprives the baby’s bloodstream of oxygen rich blood because the ductus arteriosus, which previously supplied the fetal heart with blood, never closes. This prevents the passing of oxygen through the baby’s lungs and into the bloodstream causing a condition called persistent fetal circulation (PFC). Organ failure becomes a serious concern without oxygen rich blood passing through the baby’s body.

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