Over the past 15 years, multiple studies have addressed the reproductive safety of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Data on the overall teratogenicity of SSRIs come from relatively small cohort studies and larger international programs, and they have cumulatively supported the reproductive safety of fluoxetine (Prozac) and certain other SSRIs. However, several recent studies have raised concerns regarding the use of SSRIs during pregnancy.
Every year more than 1.7 million women in the United States enter into menopause. During this time of hormonal fluctuations it is typical for women to experience hot flashes, night sweats and sleep disturbance. More recently, studies have identified an association between menopausal transition and an increased risk for developing depressive symptoms (Harlow et al., 2003; Freeman et al., 2004). It is not clear how physicians and patients should deal with menopause-related physical and emotional symptoms. While hormone therapy effectively treats insomnia and hot flashes, the results have been mixed in treating mood and anxiety symptoms. Moreover, the safety of long-term use of hormone therapy is not known.
Although primarily used to treat schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, the newer “atypical” antipsychotic agents are now used widely to treat a spectrum of psychiatric disorders, including major depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD and other anxiety disorders. While the reproductive safety of the older typical antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol (Haldol) and perphenazine (Trilafon), is supported by data accumulated over the past 40 years, we have far less data on the newer atypical agents: olanzapine (Zyprexa), risperidone (Risperdal), quetiapine (Seroquel), aripiprazole (Abilify), ziprasidone (Geodon), and clozapine (Clozaril).
Because rates of postpartum illness are very high in women with bipolar disorder, it is generally recommended that mothers continue treatment with a mood stabilizer throughout the postpartum period to reduce their risk of relapse; however, the use of medications during the postpartum period is complicated by the issue of breastfeeding. All medications are secreted into the breast milk, although their concentrations appear to vary (Chaudron and Jefferson, 2000).
More than 50 percent of women experience some perimenopausal symptoms, including hot flushes, night sweats, and sleep disturbance, before reaching the menopause. A recent article from Aetna Intelihealth notes that many women may also experience depression. In a study form Dr. Claudio Soares, women with clinically confirmed perimenopause were interviewed:
The increasing number of reproductive-age women taking antidepressants has raised concerns about the potential risks of using these medications during pregnancy. Literature accumulated over the last decade supports the use of certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and the older tricyclic antidepressants during pregnancy, indicating no increased risk of congenital malformation in children exposed to these medications during the first trimester of pregnancy. Still, questions remain regarding the purported risk for “toxicity” in newborns exposed to antidepressants around the time of labor and delivery. These concerns are not new. Twenty years ago, case reports suggested that maternal use of tricyclic antidepressants near the time of delivery was associated with problems in the newborn such as difficulty feeding, restlessness, or jitteriness.
Many women imagine new motherhood as a time of total fulfillment, days filled with mother-infant bonding and boundless joy. In reality, however, many women experience significant mood changes following childbirth. Between 50 and 85% of new mothers experience a brief postpartum period of tearfulness and anxiety, termed the “maternity blues.” But some 10 to 15% of women experience postpartum depression, or PPD, a longer-lasting and more pervasive type of mood disorder.
It is clear that women with bipolar disorder are at high risk for relapse during the immediate postpartum period (Viguera 2000). There is evidence that the resumption of lithium prior to or within 24-48 hours of delivery can significantly reduce the risk of postpartum illness (Cohen 1995). While this intervention is the current standard of care for this high risk population, women have historically been instructed to avoid breastfeeding while taking lithium based on early reports suggesting high levels of lithium in the breast milk and several cases of lithium toxicity in nursing infants (Schou 1973). While the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines are less restrictive in their current recommendation, they do urge caution. However, systematic studies regarding the levels of exposure to lithium in nursing infants and the potential risks of this exposure have been lacking.
About 3-5% of women of reproductive age suffer from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), where they experience depressive symptoms, anxiety or irritability during the last one to two weeks (the premenstrual phase) of their menstrual cycle. In addition, many women who suffer from depression, including those who have been effectively treated with an antidepressant, report worsening of their depressive symptoms during the premenstrual phase of the menstrual cycle. Although this may be a consequence of sensitivity to fluctuating hormone levels, little is known about the efficacy of hormonal interventions, including oral contraceptives (OCPs), in the treatment of premenstrual worsening of depressive symptoms.
About 10-15% of women suffer from depression during pregnancy. The rates are probably even higher among those women who have histories of depression prior to pregnancy. Thus, many women with recurrent illness make the decision to remain on antidepressant during pregnancy. While there have been many studies supporting the reproductive safety of certain antidepressants, including Prozac and the tricyclic antidepressants, during pregnancy, concerns have emerged as to whether antidepressants, including the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may increase the risk of adverse events in the newborn.