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Possible link between Prozac and premature births

belly October 2, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- A new study suggests that pregnant women taking the popular antidepressant Prozac may face an increased risk of premature delivery.

Researchers said their work was far from conclusive, and the report sparked sharp reactions pitting psychiatrists against obstetricians about which course of treatment was healthier.


"It's great for the psychiatrist if he has something that's really working in a patient, it's great," said Dr. Stephen Blank, an obstetrician-gynecologist.

"But they don't always take in consideration all of the risks, and it comes back to us, it doesn't go back to the psychiatrists when something happens."

Blank encourages all his pregnant patients, or those considering pregnancy, to stop taking Prozac.

Stopping medication may also be dangerous

But Dr. Zachary Stowe, of the Emory University School of Medicine, said depression is dangerous, and to recommend a pregnant woman stop taking medication without careful consideration could risk her life.


"What they're doing is telling women exactly what we struggle with in society today, and that is that being depressed is not that important," Stowe said. "We're telling them that because they get pregnant, they're allowed to suffer."

The study found no evidence of major birth defects if Prozac were taken early in pregnancy, but said there was a greater chance the baby would be born prematurely if the drug were taken later in pregnancy.


"The study didn't tell us for sure whether or not it is safe to use Prozac if you're pregnant," said Dr. Richard Johnston of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

"What the study did was raise a red flag. And that red flag says that if you're pregnant and considering Prozac, you better think about it hard."

The study, conducted by Christina D. Chambers and others from the University of California at San Diego, was published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Premature birth five times more likely


The researchers identified 228 women who had taken Prozac during pregnancy. They compared them with 254 women who were not taking the medicine or being treated for depression.

They found that the 73 infants exposed to Prozac during the third trimester were five times more likely than those exposed earlier in pregnancy to be born prematurely. They were also more likely to have minor problems that required admission to special care nurseries.

The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation recommended that pregnant women try to avoid taking the drug until its effects have been studied better. But it warned women should not stop taking Prozac during pregnancy without first consulting their doctors.

Prozac is the most widely prescribed medicine for depression. It is taken by more than 12 million people worldwide. Researchers estimate three million women in their child-bearing years are using it.

The maker of Prozac, Eli Lilly & Co., recommends that it not be given to pregnant women because of a lack of data about its effects on the unborn. The company called the latest study reassuring, because it found no sign that Prozac causes serious birth defects.

Five previous studies failed to show a link between Prozac and birth defects or other problems.

Correspondent Rhonda Rowland and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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