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Pregnant women who take the antidepressant medication Effexor (venlafaxine) are more than three times more likely to have a baby with gastroschisis, a serious abdominal birth defect.

Effexor and Gastroschisis

Effexor (venlafaxine) is an antidepressant medication in the “Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor” (SNRI) class. It treats major depressive disorders, panic, and anxiety by influencing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. Effexor is a “Pregnancy Category C” medication, which means that it could potentially cause a birth defect, but doctors may still prescribe Effexor to a pregnant woman. During pregnancy, Effexor’s effect on serotonin could potentially increase the risk of birth defects. Unfortunately, many women were unaware of the risk of gastroschisis associated with Effexor.

Studies of Effexor and Gastroschisis

The medical journal Birth Defects Research published this study in December 2012, which evaluated the risk of birth defects from data collected between 1997 through 2007. The researchers found a 3.3-fold increased risk of gastroschisis associated with Effexor. According to the researchers:

“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 Gastroschisis?

Gastroschisis is a congenital birth defect that occurs when the abdominal wall fails to close completely, leaving an opening (hernia) through which intestines and/or internal organs protrude outside the body. The hernia is usually located near the umbilical cord, and the organs are not covered with a membrane.

Treatment for gastroschisis usually involves surgery shortly after birth to place the organs inside the abdomen and close the hernia. In less severe cases, a one-stage surgery may be possible. However, treatment of severe gastroschisis can be complicated if the intestines are severely damaged, or if the baby’s abdomen is not large enough to contain the organs.