The Dangers of Antidepressants Protecting Victims of Drug Injuries

Attorneys for Antidepressant / SSRI Lawsuits

Antidepressants have found a niche in the American households; in fact, according to CNN these are the most prescribed drugs in the nation - beating out even prescriptions to treat high blood pressure. This has led to over 118 million antidepressant prescriptions being filled out every year, the usage tripling over the past few decades.

While many people will argue that taking these drugs is a good step in the battle against depression, there is a dark side to their usage.

What Are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors?

One of the most commonly type of antidepressant is known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which work to balance the chemicals in the brain. SSRIs are used to treat depression and other psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety disorders.

These drugs are intended to change the level of serotonin in the brain by blocking the reuptake (re-absorption) of this neurotransmitter, thus improving a patient's mood. There is a theory that states that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin; however, this is just a theory and as SSRIs such as Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac make their way onto the American market, it's a gamble hoping that their hopeful benefits will outweigh the possible risks.

Some of the leading SSRIs include the following:

  • Zoloft (sertraline hydrochloride)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)

How Does an SSRI Work?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical substance that transmits nerve impulses) that is thought to affect mood, sleep, learning, and blood vessel constriction. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression. An SSRI is intended to work by blocking or delaying serotonin from being reabsorbed by the nerve cell that released it. This enables serotonin to remain active and allows it to be absorbed by other nerves.

Common Side Effects Associated with Antidepressants

While virtually every prescription medication has the potential to cause side effects, some of the side effects caused by SSRIs have the potential to cause serious injury or even the wrongful death of a patient. Particularly in the case of birth defects and suicide, the side effects caused by SSRIs have the potential to dramatically impact a patient and his or her family. In the face of the resulting medical bills, financial problems, and emotional trauma, seeking justice and maximum compensation can make a big difference in a patient and family's ability to move on.

Just what are the known side effects? In 2005, the FDA released a warning stating that women who took SSRIs while pregnant (especially during the early stages of the pregnancy) were in danger of suffering from pregnancy complications and having children suffer from serious birth injuries, such as heart defects and premature birth.

Other side effects that are commonly associated with antidepressants include the following:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Problems with digestion
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle spasms / twitching
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritability and aggression

Antidepressants & Anal Atresia

Antidepressants are effective at treating mental health problems but recent studies have shown that, when taken during pregnancy, they can cause serious birth defects. One of the negative effects is anal atresia (imperforate anus). Anal atresia is a birth defect that results in the baby being born with a misplaced or non-existent anus.

There are two different types of anal atresia: high and low. Boys with high anal atresia have a channel that connects the large intestine either to the urethra (which delivers urine to the bladder) or else directly to the bladder itself. In girls, the channel may connect directly with the vagina. With low anal atresia, the channel may open close to the anal sphincter or, in boys, below the scrotum. Anal atresia is a fairly recognizable condition, and diagnosis is usually made immediately after birth.

On some occasions, however, the anal atresia isn't noticed until the baby is fed, leading to signs of intestinal obstruction (typically, the abdomen will swell and the baby will vomit fecal material). To determine the type of anal atresia, an MRI or ultrasound will likely be performed. Surgery is the only treatment for anal atresia. High anal atresia is corrected with immediate surgery on the large intestine to create a colostomy in the abdomen for waste excretion.

Several months later, the intestine is moved to the sphincter, and a hole is made in the skin to create an anal opening. The colostomy is then closed several weeks later. In low anal atresia, immediately after diagnosis, a hole is made in the skin where the anal opening should be located. If the channel is in the wrong place, the intestine will be moved to the proper position sometime before the baby turns one. After surgery is performed, the family will have to use an instrument daily to widen the newly created rectum in order to prevent the formation of scar tissue.

Antidepressants & Narrowing of the Aorta

Drugs like Zoloft and Prozac are all commonly used for the treatment of depression and other mental health issues. Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that when these drugs were taken by expectant mothers during pregnancy, the unborn fetuses are put at greater risk of developing birth defects. One of the birth defects associated with the use of these medications is coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta. The aorta is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. When the aorta is too narrow, as is the case in babies born with coarctation of the aorta, the heart may have difficulty providing the rest of the body with the oxygen it needs to function.

Symptoms may vary, but coarctation of the aorta can lead to any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Cold feet or legs
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Failure to thrive
  • Poor growth
  • Frequent nosebleeds
  • Pounding headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased ability to exercise

Most newborns born with the condition will immediately be placed on stabilizing medications to prepare their heart for surgery. The type of surgery performed will depend on the individual child.

Each of the following is a treatment option for coarctation of the aorta:

  • Anastamosis Surgery: The narrowed portion of the aorta is removed, and the remaining tubes are reconnected
  • Dacron Graft: The narrow part of the aorta is removed and replaced with artificial materials
  • Balloon Dilation: A balloon is inflated inside the narrowed portion of the aorta in order to widen it.

Antidepressants & Patent Ductus Arteriosus

One of the serious heart birth defects caused by antidepressants is patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). PDA is a condition in which the ductus arteriosus (a vessel that carries blood to the baby's lungs prior to birth) fails to close. While the vessel usually closes in the first few days after birth, once the lungs fill with oxygen, PDA can cause problems due to abnormal blood flow between the aorta and the pulmonary aorta.

Symptoms of PDA may include:

  • Fast breathing
  • Poor feeding
  • Rapid pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating, particularly during feedings
  • Frequent fatigue
  • Poor growth

Babies with PDA may have a detectable heart murmur, or display other symptoms that may lead to a diagnosis. A PDA diagnosis will be confirmed with an echocardiogram, but sometimes may not be diagnosed until later in life. Sometimes, a PDA may close on its own, but at other times, medications like indomethacin or a specialized form of ibuprofen may be required to close the PDA. If these treatments do not work, the baby may need to be fitted with a transcatheter device to block blood flow to the site of the PDA. If this intervention does not close the PDA, surgery may be required to correct the problem. It is important to treat the condition because, left untreated, PDA can lead to high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, infection in the heart's inner lining, or even heart failure.

Antidepressants & Tetralogy of Fallot

One of the birth defects associated with the use of antidepressants is Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect.

Tetralogy of Fallot describes a condition where there are four separate defects in the heart:

  • Ventricular septal defect (a hole between the right and left ventricles)
  • Narrowing of the pulmonary outflow tract (the valve and artery that connect the lungs and heart)
  • Overriding aorta that is shifted over the right ventricle and the septal defect instead of coming out of the left ventricle (the aorta is the vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body)
  • Right ventricular hypertrophy (thickened right ventricle wall)

In addition to all the problems listed above, Tetralogy of Fallot causes low levels of oxygen in the blood, leaving babies cyanotic (the infants' skin appears to be bluish-purple).

Other symptoms and complications include:

  • Clubbed fingers
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Passing out
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Poor growth and development
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heart rhythms)
  • Seizures due to lack of oxygen
  • Death

Surgery to repair this condition must be performed when the baby is very young. Occasionally, more than one surgery will be required to completely repair the condition; when this is the case, the first surgery performed will address blood flow to the lungs. Other surgeries will widen the pulmonary tract and close the ventricular hole. With surgery, more than 90% of Tetralogy of Fallot patients survive into adulthood. Without surgery, however, Tetralogy of Fallot leads to premature death, usually by the time the child turns 20. Even after surgery, babies born with this condition should have life-long follow-ups with a cardiologist to monitor for dangerous complications.

Why Hire a Skilled Medical Injury Attorney?

If you or a loved one have been prescribed antidepressants but have suffered adverse side effects, you should not hesitate to get the involvement of a personal injury lawyer to take on your case. These lawsuits are complex and require an attorney comfortable with litigation regarding medical injuries. You can rest assured knowing that we at Arnold & Itkin LLP are not afraid of court. Our adversaries know we are not afraid to take a case to trial because we have repeatedly done so before. We will not settle for an inadequate settlement just because we want to avoid the courtroom. We will do everything we can to maximize the recovery of our clients - including taking a case to trial.

Arnold & Itkin went up against Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the subsidiary of global manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson. We took them to task for Risperdal, a drug that led to abnormal female growth in young boys. We secured our client a $76.6 million verdict — this was 20 times more than the previous four Risperdal verdicts combined. Call (888) 493-1629 today for a free consultation and discuss your case with our firm.

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