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The risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect such as coarctation of the aorta has been linked to the use of Effexor (venlafaxine) during pregnancy. Babies with this serious, life-threatening heart defect may require heart surgery immediately after birth, with potentially devastating long-term complications.

Effexor and Coarctation of the Aorta

When you were prescribed the antidepressant medication Effexor (venlafaxine) during pregnancy, your doctor may have warned you about the potential risks to your baby. According to the Prescribing Information, Effexor is a “Pregnancy Category C” drug, meaning that it could potentially increase the risk of birth defects. Despite this risk, doctors are allowed to prescribe Effexor to pregnant women if they both decide that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.

Unfortunately, in recent years, a growing amount of research has linked antidepressants to birth defects — especially heart defects. Many women were unaware of this risk when they took Effexor during pregnancy.

Studies of Effexor and Coarctation of the Aorta

One study that linked Effexor to coarctation of the aorta was published in December 2012 in Birth Defects Research. The study found that babies exposed to Effexor were 3.2-times more likely to have coarctation of the aorta..

The conclusions of the study were based on an analysis of data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study between 1997 and 2007. The researchers also associated Effexor with other birth defects, and 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 Coarctation of the Aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital heart defect that occurs when the aorta is abnormally narrow near the ductus arteriosus. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body, and it carries oxygen-rich blood into the body. When the aorta is too narrow, it may not be able to carry enough blood to the body.

Children with mild coarctation of the aorta may have no symptoms. In moderate or severe cases, babies may develop life-threatening symptoms soon after birth, including:

  • Pale or blue skin, lips, nails
  • Irritability
  • Heavy sweating
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, heavy and/or rapid breathing
  • Poor growth
  • Poor feeding
  • Cool or clammy skin
  • And more

A physician may first suspect a heart defect upon hearing an abnormal sound called a heart murmur when listening to your baby’s heart using a stethoscope. Coarctation of the aorta is often diagnosed using a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG), or other imaging tests.

Treatment for coarctation of the aorta depends on the severity of the defect and the patient. One treatment option for older patients may be cardiac catheterization. Infants may require open heart surgery to repair the defect.