Sertraline is the generic name for Zoloft. It is known as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), a drug often prescribed to treat depression. Although there are several types of SSRIs, sertraline is one of the most popular, with nearly 30 million prescriptions issued in 2007 alone. Unfortunately, it has been linked to numerous birth defects, prompting some parents to file Zoloft lawsuit side effects claims against Pfizer, the drug’s manufacturer.
In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration warned women that using SSRIs while pregnant could cause a congenital disorder known as persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns (PPHN). The announcement was prompted by a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study had revealed that fetuses exposed to SSRIs were six times more likely to be born with the condition.
PPHN is one of the most serious Zoloft birth defects. It can be fatal without treatment. We’ll explain how it influences a baby’s circulation below, and describe the side effects it causes.
How Fetal Circulation Works
The path taken by blood while a baby is in the womb is different than the path it takes after the baby is born. Gas exchange (oxygen and carbon dioxide) takes place in the placenta rather than the lungs. The placenta provides the baby with the necessary oxygen to survive and grow.
The blood in the right ventricle is pumped into the pulmonary trunk, as normally occurs after birth. However, instead of flowing to the lungs for oxygen, most of it flows through a fetal shunt called the ductus arteriosus. This shunt, found near the aortic arch, forms a passage between the pulmonary artery and the aorta. Over 90 percent of the blood that leaves the right ventricle flows through it to the aorta, and onward to the baby’s body. It then circulates back to the placenta to pick up more oxygen.
What Is Pulmonary Hypertension In Newborns?
Normally, when a baby is born and takes the first breath, oxygen rushes into the lungs and creates pulmonary pressure. This pressure causes the blood vessels of the lungs to expand. At the same time, the lungs release a peptide called bradykinin, which causes the ductus arteriosus to close. Within one or two days, the fetal shunt becomes almost completely closed, forcing blood in the pulmonary artery to flow to the lungs. The blood picks up oxygen before traveling to the left atrium.
In a baby born with persistent pulmonary hypertension, the ductus arteriosus fails to close. Instead, it remains open, and allows blood to continuing traveling between the pulmonary artery and aorta. The lungs still fill with oxygen, but much of the blood fails to reach them.
In the womb, recall that blood flows from the pulmonary artery through the ductus arteriosus to the aorta. With PPHN, the higher pressure in the aorta causes blood to move in the opposite direction. This allows oxygenated blood in the aorta to mix with deoxygenated in the pulmonary artery. Both travel to the lungs, causing hypertension.
Zoloft And Pregnancy Side Effects
Side effects of PPHN are related to the infant’s respiratory function. Because less oxygen-rich blood is able to leave the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, the oxygen level in the baby’s body drops. The infant will display rapid breathing, a fast heartbeat, and cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin). These symptoms are due to hypoxia, a condition in which the body lacks sufficient oxygen to function properly.
The severity of the side effects depends on the size of the fetal shunt. If the ductus arteriosus remains large, allowing a substantial amount of oxygenated blood in the aorta to travel to the lungs, signs of respiratory distress will likely be severe. If the shunt is small, they may be mild. In cases where the medical team is unable to oxygenate the baby’s body, a prolonged lack of adequate oxygen can lead to multiple organ failure and even death.
Persistent pulmonary hypertension is one of many serious Zoloft birth defects that warrants prompt treatment. Severe cases are fatal if they are left unresolved. If your baby is suffering from problems that resulted from Zoloft birth defects, you may have the right to file a claim for compensation. Contact an experienced Zoloft lawsuit side effects lawyer to discuss your options.