What Are Zoloft Birth Defects?


The global pharmaceutical conglomerate Pfizer produces the antidepressant Zoloft. It is one of their marquis drugs that yields them billions of dollars in revenue every year from the over 30 million prescriptions to patients in the United States and around the world.

Zoloft’s active ingredient is sertraline, which is a type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract and is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. Zoloft increases the amount serotonin by inhibiting its absorption back into the body. In turn, this affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause depression, panic, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Seems pretty straight forward on the surface, but there are reasons why the serotonin is reabsorbed by the body naturally. Too much of one thing in a person’s system beyond what the body naturally produces is rarely a good thing and often leads to serious side effects. In the case of Zoloft, either its advertised benefits or other factors are potentially effecting the development of the fetus in pregnant women. This has led to serious and potentially fatal birth defects.

What are Zoloft Birth Defects?

The issue of depression during pregnancy is a sensitive one. Depression during pregnancy is common as the hormones in a woman’s body adjust in new ways and at different levels in a seemingly random pattern. As any prenatal specialist will tell you, these hormone changes are pretty predictable in general, but the way the patient’s body will react is the highly chaotic part.

This is why they Mayo Clinic Website warns, “If you don’t take proper care of depression during pregnancy, you may put your health — and your baby’s health — at risk. If you’re depressed, you may not have the energy to take good care of yourself.” They go on to say, “The price of untreated depression may be high, including premature birth, low birth weight, developmental problems and an increased risk of postpartum depression.”

However, these recommendations are followed by the serious side effects of antidepressants on the unborn fetus. These side effects can cause the child to be born prematurely with lasting health concerns that may inhibit their future growth and quality of life. Yet these concerns aren’t adequately addressed by Pfizer or on the packaging of the drug.

First we should define what “congenital” means since it is mentioned in many of these descriptions. Congenital means a trait, defect, or disease that is presented at birth that may be either curable or stays with the person for the rest of their lives.

Some Zoloft Birth Defects Are:

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) – This birth defect is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart. Long-standing or particularly large ASDs can damage the heart and lungs. If detected early in a child, it can be remedied with surgery if the child is in healthy enough condition. An adult who has had an undetected ASD may have a shortened life span from heart failure or high blood pressure in the lungs.

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) – Hypoplastic left heart syndrome occurs when parts of the left side of the heart do not develop completely. This causes the right side of the heart to work abnormally and unsustainably hard. According to the Mayo Clinic, “An undeveloped heart can’t pump efficiently enough to support life, causing a child who has HLHS to get very sick. Without treatment, your child usually dies within the first days of life.”

Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome (HRHS) – This is the underdevelopment of the right-sided structures of the heart. These defects cause inadequate blood flow to the lungs and thus, a blue or cyanotic infant. Though this is rarer than HLHS, it is more treatable. Commonly it requires open heart surgery where a shunt is placed in the heart to control and regulate flow. However, even with this procedure, HRHS can result in other health problems such as:

  • Cyanosis
  • Heart murmur
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Lethargy

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN) – When the newborn’s circulation has not made the normal transition from fetal circulation to normal newborn circulation, PPHN is the result, causing pressure in the lungs to increase and leading to distress. This distress causes high blood pressure in the lungs, so blood in the pulmonary artery is sent away from the lungs to the other organs through a fetal blood vessel. This fetal blood vessel closes after birth so that the blood pressure in their lungs can lower and they can start normal lung function. However, with PPHN, that fetal blood vessel does not close, causing blood to be directed away from the lungs and resulting in birth asphyxia due to dangerously low oxygen levels. Even if this is averted, the baby is still in serious danger of infection.

Tetralogy of Fallot – This is actually a fatal combination of four heart defects that are present at birth. These defects, which affect the structure of the heart, are congenital heart defects that change the normal flow of blood through the heart. This oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and into the rest of the body is dangerous, but extremely hard to detect. Thus, this Zoloft side effect may manifest in the child much later in life and with dire results.

Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA) – TGA is the most common cyanotic congenital heart lesion that presents in newborns. It happens when the two main arteries leaving the heart are reversed (transposed). If treatment is required, then it generally means that the child is held in the hospital until they are determined to be strong enough to withstand the rigors of open-heart surgery.

National Zoloft Attorneys

Parents who have dealt with a sick infant or the death of their newborn can tell you that it is one of the hardest things a person can go through in their lifetime and can result in broken families and broken lives. It’s made worse when their child’s birth defects or developmental problems were related to Zoloft and they weren’t properly informed of the dangers.

If you have found that you or a loved one has had a child with a birth defect and they were taking Zoloft during pregnancy, they may be entitled to compensation. It is important that you contact legal council that has experience in protecting patients from giant pharmaceutical companies. Call Phillips Law Firm for a consultation on your legal options.