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Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressant medication prescribed for treating depression, anxiety disorders and some personality disorders including obsessive-compulsive disorder and eating disorders. These drugs are designed to elevate the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin. A low level of serotonin is one of several neurochemical symptoms of depression. Because serotonin is necessary to metabolize stress hormones, low levels of serotonin often result in anxiety disorders. SSRIs were first thought to be significantly safer than other anti-depressant medications; they were also thought to have fewer and less strong side effects and adverse interactions with other drugs.
There are many side effects associated with SSRIs including but not limited to:
- Changes in or diminished libido
- Weight/appetite fluctuations
- Increased feelings of depression and/or anxiety
Although SSRI's are not considered addictive in the traditional medical sense as opiates or benzodiazepines, sudden discontinuation of the drugs is avoided as it can produce both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The name given to the set of symptoms associated with sudden discontinuation of an SSRI is "SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome." Most physicians recommend a gradual tapering off of these drugs.
In recent years, SSRIs have been in the news quite a bit due to their link to various health problems, most notably, perhaps, birth defects in children born to mothers taking the drugs during pregnancy. Zoloft (generic sertraline), manufactured by Pfizer Incorporated, has been linked to infants being born with persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN). According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, research shows that "infants born to mothers who took Zoloft or other SSRIs after the 20th week of pregnancy were six times more likely to have PPHN than infants born to mothers who did not take antidepressants during pregnancy.
Infants born with PPHN have difficulty making the transition from breathing inside the womb to normal breathing after delivery and often require use of a ventilator after birth. Infants of mothers taking Zoloft are often born experiencing withdrawal symptoms including tremors, high-pitched crying, sleep disturbances and gastrointestinal problems. In fact, 13% of 60 newborns exposed to SSRIs showed severe symptoms of withdrawal.
Paxil, generic paroxetine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, has been named in several lawsuits involving suicidal tendencies and suicide attempts in adolescents and teens. One lawsuit alleges that the manufacturer promoted Paxil for use in children yet failed to provide pertinent information regarding its harmful side effects, including increased suicidal behavior.
Celexa (generic citalopram), manufactured by Forest Laboratories, Inc., has been associated with coronary birth defects and increased suicidal thinking and behavior of adolescents and teens taking the drug for Major Depressive Disorder (MMD).
Prozac, generic fluoxetine hydrocholoride) is manufactured by Eli Lilly and is prescribed for depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Like other SSRI's Prozac has been known to increase suicidal behavior and thinking in teens being treated for depression.