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Lexapro Birth Defects

Lexapro Birth Defects: First-Trimester Use Causes Lexapro Birth Defects

Lexapro (Escitalopram), an antidepressant prescription drug sold by Forest Laboratories, Inc., has been linked to an increased risk for a range of cardiac and other birth defects. Lexapro birth defects include Anencephaly, Craniosynostosis, Omphalocele, Club Foot and Spina Bifida. Lexapro use during pregnancy may also lead to Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN).  Lexapro is classified as one of several Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, all of which have been found to increase the risk of similar birth defects. The National Birth Defects Prevention Study, a project of the CDC, recently outlined groundbreaking data regarding birth defects caused by Lexapro and other SSRI antidepressants.  If the fetus is exposed to Lexapro during the first and third trimesters in utero, the risk of birth defects is thought to be particularly high.

Lexapro Birth Defects

Lexapro use has been discouraged for pregnant women due to evidence that Lexapro increases the risk of many different birth defects.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, which confirmed Lexapro's link to birth defects caused by the pregnant mother taking Lexapro prior to pregnancy or during the first and third trimesters. Conclusive results showed that Lexapro use specifically causes an increase in cardiac or congenital heart defects, but it may cause an even higher risk for other types of birth defects.

Of all the health problems Lexapro has been found to cause, those suffered by infants whose mother took Lexapro during pregnancy are the most extreme.  Tests of the levels of Setraline in the umbilical cord blood show that a fetus can be exposed to as much as one-third of the Lexapro level in the mother's bloodstream.  Lexapro is also dangerous when taken by breastfeeding mothers, as infants have been found to be exposed to Setraline in that fashion as well.  Cardiac birth defects have been most severe in infants who were exposed to Lexapro during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Lexapro Use Heightens Risk of Anencephaly

Anencephaly is a serious condition in which the neural tube, or the tissue around the spinal cord and brain, does not develop properly during the earliest period of fetal growth.  Neural tubes that are not closed lead to conditions such as the absence of a skull, the absence of the cerebral hemispheres and cerebellum portions of the brain, facial feature abnormalities and heart defects. Anencephaly is very rare, happening in only about 1 in 10,000 births.  Use of Lexapro by a pregnant mother may increase risk factors by 200% or more, as documented in 2007 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Craniosynostosis Risk Increases with Lexapro Use

Craniosynostosis is a congenital birth defect that causes the skull bones to fuse together prematurely.  Babies are normally born with separate skull bones, which allow for the brain to grow in the early childhood years.  Craniosynostosis results in an oddly-shaped head, but more significantly, requires major surgery to correct so that the infant does not experience problems related to brain swelling when the brain grows at its normal rate.

Omphalocele Birth Defects Increase with Lexapro Intake

Omphalocele is a circumstance where the umbilical muscles do not form properly, causing the intestine and abdominal muscles to stick out at the navel and grow outside of the umbilical cord.  Infants born with this problem must undergo major corrective surgery.  The New England Journal of Medicine published research in 2007 that indicated Lexapro use by the mother may double the chances of a baby being born with an omphalocele birth defect.

Other Lexapro Birth Defects

Club foot and spina bifida are birth defects that have also been found to be caused by Lexapro use during pregnancy.

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

In addition to increasing the risk of a variety of birth defects, Lexapro can also cause problems in babies shortly after birth.  Newborns whose mother took Lexapro during their third trimester of pregnancy are at an increased risk for developing Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension.  This is a condition in which the normal circulatory transition that should take place when a baby is born fails to occur.

Lexapro Manufacturer, Forest Laboratories, Embroiled in Legal Problems

Forest Laboratories, Inc., the company that manufactures and markets Lexapro, faced two separated lawsuits during 2004. Allegations were made that the company had engaged in illegal marketing practices for Lexapro (escitalopram) and another SSRI antidepressant, Celexa (citalopram), and also concealed research results that showed the drugs were dangerous for children.  The lawsuits were based on an accusation that Forest Laboratories had marketed the two drugs to kids and adolescents, in spite of the fact the drug is only FDA-approved for adults.  The FDA requires Lexapro and Celexa to be accompanied by a Black Box Warning, the strongest warning label the agency requires for dangerous drugs.  The lawsuits were brought by a Forest Laboratories salesman and a non-practicing doctor, who were alarmed that the company was marketing these two drugs to young people despite serious side effects (including an increase in suicidal tendencies) found to occur in that demographic.  Federal prosecuters accused Forest Laboratories of giving kickbacks to doctors in exchange for prescribing both Lexapro and Celexa to kids despite their proven risks.  The allegations, which in 2009 were combined into one large case, resulted in a $313 Department of Justice settlement. Read more

More information on Lexapro birth defects can be found at The Onder Law Firm's Lexapro birth defects website at