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Effexor (venlafaxine) has been associated with a 1.7-fold increased risk of a “hole-in-the-heart” defect called Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). Children with this heart defect may require surgery to improve circulation and prevent long-term complications.

Effexor and Atrial Septal Defect

Effexor (venlafaxine) is a “Pregnancy Category C” medication, which means that it could potentially increase the risk of birth defects, but doctors can still prescribe it to pregnant women if they determine that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. Unfortunately, many Effexor birth defect lawsuits have been filed by women who were not fully informed that the risk may include heart defects like Atrial Septal Defect (ASD).

The problem with using an antidepressant like Effexor during pregnancy is that the active drugs pass to a developing fetus. Effexor is designed to influence serotonin, which is a good treatment for depression, but may also interfere with normal fetal development. During the first trimester, serotonin signaling in a fetus is essential for normal fetal heart development.

Studies of Effexor and Atrial Septal Defect

If you took Effexor during pregnancy and had a baby with a “hole-in-the-heart” defect (also known as a septal heart defect), you are not alone. In the following study, published in December 2012 in Birth Defects Research septal heart defects were the most commonly-reported birth defect associated with Effexor. Researchers found a 1.7-fold increased risk of atrial septal defect associated with Effexor during pregnancy.

The researchers warned:

“Statistically significant associations were found for anencephaly, atrial septal defect (ASD) secundum, or ASD not otherwise specified, coarctation of the aorta, cleft palate, and gastroschisis.”

What is Atrial Septal Defect?

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) is a congenital heart defect, also known as a “hole-in-the-heart” defect. Normally, the heart is separated into four chambers: two on the left (which carry oxygen-rich blood to the body), and two on the right (which carry oxygen-poor blood to the lungs).

The septal wall separates the left and right side of the heart. If there are holes in the septal wall, oxygen-rich blood mixes with oxygen-poor blood. The result is lower oxygen levels in blood that goes into the body.

Some ASDs are very minor and may not be discovered until the child is an adult. If the ASD is very large, the child may have severe complications, including impaired growth, shortness of breath, fluid in the lungs, heart failure, and even death.

Treatment for ASD is often performed with a minimally-invasive catheter treatment. The procedure involves inserting a long, flexible tube called a catheter in a large vein in the groin. The catheter is guided into the heart. Then, a closure device is placed in the ASD and the defect is closed.

With treatment, long-term prognosis for children with ASDs is very good. Many children have no future exercise restrictions, and live fully and healthy lives.