LONDON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Antidepressant use during pregnancy does not cause heart defects in children, according to a new study in England, but concerns remain about the drugs' effects on a fetus.
Researchers at University College London found the drugs were not linked to congenital heart defects in newborns, possibly eliminating one concern of side effects for children born to women being treated for depression.
Previous research has shown some antidepressants -- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, -- increase the risk for birth defects if taken during the first trimester, but don't increase risk for autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Another study, however, showed the drugs can double the chance a child is diagnosed with autism by age 7.
"Women often receive conflicting messages on whether they should continue taking antidepressants during pregnancy and many women may discontinue antidepressants in pregnancy because they fear adverse effects on their unborn child," said Dr. Irene Petersen, a researcher at University College London, in a press release.
Researchers analyzed data for the study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, collected as part of the Health Improvement Network primary care database on 209,135 patients who participated in four large studies of children of women who had and had not been treated with antidepressant drugs. Among the women, 5,154 women were receiving SSRIs before pregnancy, 2,776 were receiving SSRIs during pregnancy, 992 were receiving other antidepressants during pregnancy, and 200,213 were receiving no antidepressants before or during pregnancy.
Researchers reported less than 1 percent of children had congenital heart anomalies within five years of birth, and there were no significant differences between women who taking the drugs and women who were not taking them.
About 70 percent of pregnant women in United States stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy, which often results in a recurrence of depression and brings other consequences.
Petersen reiterated what researchers in other studies have said -- including those that showed antidepressant drugs increase health risk for unborn children -- that the risk of depression-related issues during pregnancy outweigh risks toward children.
"It is important to consider both the pros and cons before women stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy," Petersen said. "Our research adds to the ongoing debate on whether these drugs cause congenital heart anomalies, and we have found no evidence to any such effect. However, health care professionals should counsel women on other risks contributing to congenital heart anomalies in children such as age, weight, diabetes, alcohol problems and illicit drug use."