Perinatal Outcome Following Third Trimester
Exposure to Paroxetine

Adriana Moldovan Costei, MD; Eran Kozer, MD; Tommy Ho, MD, FRCPC;Shinya Ito, MD; Gideon Koren, MD, FRCPC Background: Paroxetine hydrochloride is commonly
women using paroxetine during the first or second tri- used for maternal depression, panic disorder, and obses- mester and 27 women using nonteratogenic drugs were sive-compulsive disorder. The drug readily crosses the matched for maternal age, gravity, parity, social drug use, human placenta. Although it does not appear to in- crease teratogenic risk, there have been case reports ofneonatal withdrawal. Symptoms were described soon af- Results: Of the 55 neonates exposed to paroxetine in
late gestation, 12 had complications necessitating inten-sive treatment and prolonged hospitalization. The most Objective: To investigate whether there is a clinically
prevalent clinical picture was respiratory distress (n = 9), important discontinuation syndrome in neonates ex- followed by hypoglycemia (n = 2), and jaundice (n = 1).
The symptoms disappeared within 1 to 2 weeks. In thecomparison group, only 3 infants experienced compli- Methods: Prospective, controlled cohort study.
cations (P = .03). In logistic regression, only third-trimester exposure to paroxetine was associated with neo- Patients: Fifty-five pregnant women counseled pro-
natal distress (odds ratio, 9.53; 95% confidence interval, spectively by the Motherisk program in Toronto, On- tario, regarding third-trimester exposure to paroxetineand their infants were included in the study group. Preg- Conclusion: When used near term, paroxetine is asso-
nant women who discontinued paroxetine before the third ciated with a high rate of neonatal complications, pos- trimester or those receiving other drugs known to cause sibly caused by its common discontinuation syndrome.
withdrawal-type symptoms, such as opioids or benzodi-azepines, were excluded. A comparison group of 27 Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156:1129-1132 PAROXETINEHYDROCHLORIDE plasmaratiorangingfrom0.056to1.3,and
infant is estimated at 0.34% of the mater- nal dosage per kilogram of body weight.5-8 der, and obsessive-compulsive disorder in fants exposed in utero to paroxetine with not appear to cause major congenital mal- formations,1 its perinatal safety when used posed to the drug only during the first and lished. The drug readily crosses the hu-man placenta and has a mean elimina- The Motherisk program provides counseling for women and their health care providers on ated with maternal use of paroxetine,2-4 in- the risk or safety of drugs and chemicals dur- cluding irritability, jitteriness, constant ing pregnancy and lactation. Presently, we are counseling as many as 200 patients a day. Be- crying, shivering, eating or sleeping diffi- culties, gastrointestinal symptoms, and sei- we followed all pregnant women who called the Motherisk program about paroxetine ex- soon after birth and lasted up to 1 month posure during the third trimester of preg- after birth. Paroxetine has a reported milk- nancy. These women were prospectively fol- (REPRINTED) ARCH PEDIATR ADOLESC MED/ VOL 156, NOV 2002 2002 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
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between the study and control groups (PϽ.10) or those that Table 1. Maternal Characteristics*
might confound the relationship between other variables andrespiratory distress were included in a multivariate analysis. Vari- Paroxetine Hydrochloride
ables were retained in the multivariate analysis if they met the Exposure in the
significance level of PϽ.05 or if they changed the point of es- Third Trimester
timate of another variable by more than 10%.
Of 291 pregnant women who were counseled by the Motherisk program about paroxetine use, 55 met the in- clusion criterion, being exposed to the drug during the third trimester. They used paroxetine for depression (31 women [56%]), anxiety (17 women [31%]), anxiety and depression (7 women [13%]), and panic attacks (5 women [9%]) (some patients had more than 1 indication). The daily dosage ranged from 10 mg to 60 mg (mean, 23 mg; The maternal characteristics of the 2 groups are sum- marized in Table 1. The infants in the 2 comparison sub-
*Data are presented as the number (percentage) of subjects unless groups did not differ in any characteristic and therefore were combined for the sake of comparison with the study †Comparison group included 27 women who used paroxetine only during the first and/or second trimesters and 27 women who used nonteratogenicdrugs.
Of the 55 infants exposed to paroxetine during the ‡Some women had parity higher than 2.
third trimester of pregnancy, 12 experienced neonatal
complications that necessitated prolonged hospitaliza-
tions (Table 2). The most prevalent clinical picture was
lowed up by telephone calls after delivery. The interviewaddressed the course of pregnancy, delivery, and the neonatal respiratory distress (n = 9), followed by hypoglycemia period, including malformations, developmental milestones, nu- (n=2) and jaundice (n=1). None of the infants had pneu- trition, etc. Interviewers did not make any suggestions about monia, cardiac malformation, respiratory distress syn- potential adverse outcomes. The protocol of the interview has drome, sepsis, or other causes of respiratory distress. In contrast, only 3 infants in the comparison group had neo- The inclusion criterion was exposure to paroxetine natal complications (2 infants with paroxetine expo- throughout the third trimester. Pregnant women who discon- sure in trimesters 1 and 2 had respiratory distress and tinued paroxetine before the third trimester or those receiving meconium aspiration, respectively; 1 of the nonterato- other drugs known to cause withdrawal-type symptoms, such genic controls had jaundice). The rate of neonatal com- as opioids, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or heavy use of etha- plications among neonates exposed to paroxetine in the nol, were excluded from the study. At the time of counseling,we collected data on reproductive and medical history, de- third trimester (22%) was significantly higher than among tailed exposure data, and information on all other drugs used controls (6%) (P = .03). In the study group, there was a concomitantly. Details about cigarette, alcohol, and recre- significantly higher rate of prematurity (20% vs 3.7%; ational drug use were also collected. After delivery, partici- P = .02) (Table 3).
pants were contacted again to record the pregnancy outcome In the third-trimester paroxetine exposure group, and neonatal complications, including withdrawal symptoms 36 women breastfed and continued taking paroxetine af- ter delivery. During breastfeeding, 8 women reported For each case, we chose a control mother-child pair from symptoms in their infants, including alertness (n=6), con- the same prospective cohort and matched them for maternal stipation (n=3), sleepiness (n=1), and irritability (n=1).
age, gravity, parity, social drug use (alcohol and smoking), and In the comparison group, 44 babies were breastfed, and nonteratogenic drug use (eg, acetaminophen, vitamins, and cal-cium supplements). Two comparison groups were chosen. The none of the mothers reported adverse neonatal effects, first group included women counseled by Motherisk about ges- tational use of paroxetine only during the first and second tri- The following variables were initially included in a mesters (1-week to 6-months gestational age; median age, backward logistic stepwise regression model: prematu- 6 weeks). Daily dosage of paroxetine hydrochloride ranged from rity, maternal smoking, cesarean delivery, and exposure 10 mg to 40 mg, with a median of 20 mg. The second group to paroxetine in the third trimester (Table 4). The only
included women counseled by Motherisk about first- factor retained in the model and found to be associated trimester exposure to nonteratogenic agents (eg, acetamino- with respiratory distress in the newborn was exposure to paroxetine in the third trimester (odds ratio, 9.53; 95% Data were analyzed with Statistical Product and Service Solutions software for Windows, version 10 (SPSS Inc, Chi-cago, Ill). Descriptive statistics were used to summarize demo-graphic data. The ␹2 test was used to compare categorical vari- ables, and the t test or Mann-Whitney test, as appropriate, wasused for continuous variables. Backward stepwise logistic re- Paroxetine discontinuation symptoms have been re- gression was used to identify factors that could affect the rates ported at a rate of 0.3 per 1000 perscriptions.10 This may of respiratory distress. Variables found to differ significantly be partly due to the relatively high potency of parox- (REPRINTED) ARCH PEDIATR ADOLESC MED/ VOL 156, NOV 2002 2002 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
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Table 2. Complications Among Neonates Exposed to Paroxetine in the Third Trimester and the Comparison Groups*
Patient No.
Relevant Details
Paroxetine Hydrochloride Third Trimester Group (n = 55)
Term, septic workup was negative, echocardiogram, computed tomographic Preterm, intubation, phototherapy, 10-d hospitalization Term, placenta previa, bleeding, cesarean delivery, 2-wk hospitalization Preterm, problems resolved in first few hours Preterm, 1 day in intensive care unit for respiratory distress Paroxetine First and Second Trimesters Group (n = 27)
Nonteratogenic Drugs Group (n = 27)
Table 3. Pregnancy Outcome*
Table 4. Univariate Analysis of the Association
Between Risk Determinants for Respiratory Distress

Paroxetine Hydrochloride
in the Study Group
Exposure in the
Third Trimester

Odds Ratio
(95% Confidence Interval)
*Data are presented as the number (percentage) of subjects unless otherwise †Comparison group included 27 women who used paroxetine only during the and their conditions improved without further interven- first and/or second trimesters and 27 women who used nonteratogenic drugs.
tion or emergence of other underlying diagnoses.
It may be argued that the high rate of adverse neo- natal events, especially during breastfeeding, among in- etine at the serotonin uptake site. In adults, discontinu- fants exposed to paroxetine during the third trimester may, ation of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) at least in part, be associated with maternal psychiatric leads to nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness, pares- morbidity or disorders associated with it. However, half thesia, tremor, anxiety, nausea, and emesis, which typi- of our comparison group was composed of mothers who cally occur 2 days after the last dose and continue for an had similar conditions and who received the drug only average of 10 days.10 In a large British study, withdrawal during the first and second trimesters. Infants exposed reactions with paroxetine were 10-fold more common to the drug only during the first and second trimesters than with fluvoxamine maleate, which has a similarly short did not exhibit neonatal complications or higher rates half-life (fluvoxamine, 15 h; paroxetine, 17 h), and 15- of prematurity, as did those exposed in the third trimes- fold more common than with fluoxetine hydrochloride.
ter. This strongly suggests that paroxetine exposure near In the present study, we detected a high rate of new- term may compromise fetal and neonatal health. The fact borns who developed neonatal complications at birth af- that the adverse events were brief and without other un- ter exposure to paroxetine in the third trimester. They derlying abnormalities further supports drug exposure all required intensive treatment for a short period of time, as the mechanism for the adverse effects. Logistic regres- (REPRINTED) ARCH PEDIATR ADOLESC MED/ VOL 156, NOV 2002 2002 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.
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Accepted for publication June 27, 2002. This study was supported in part by a grant from the Ca- nadian Institutes of Health, Ottawa, Ontario. Dr Kozer has a Paroxetine, an SSRI, is commonly used for depression, fellowship from the Research Training Center and Dr Koren panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dis- holds the Research Leadership for Better Pharmacology Dur- continuation symptoms have been frequently de- ing Pregnancy and Lactation, Hospital for Sick Children, scribed in adults. Several case reports suggest that in- Toronto, Ontario. Dr Ito is a scholar and Dr Koren is a senior fants exposed in utero to paroxetine during the third scientist of the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. trimester may have poor neonatal adaptation. The pres- Corresponding author: Gideon Koren, MD, FRCPC, Di- ent study is the first to compare the perinatal outcomeof women exposed to paroxetine during the third tri- vision of Clinical Pharmacology, Hospital for Sick Chil- mester of pregnancy with women who took paroxetine dren, 555 University Ave, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8, in early pregnancy and women who took nonterato- Canada (e-mail: [email protected]). genic drugs. The incidence of complications (mainly res-piratory distress) was significantly higher in neonates exposed to paroxetine in late pregnancy.
1. Kulin NA, Pastuszak A, Sage SR, et al. Pregnancy outcome following maternal use of the new selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. JAMA. 1998;279:609-610.
2. Nordeng H, Lindeman R, Perminov KV, Reikvam A. Neonatal withdrawal syn- sion analysis confirms that paroxetine exposure in the drome after in utero exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Acta Pae- third trimester, and not prematurity, maternal smok- ing, or other confounders, was associated with neonatal 3. Stiskal JA, Kulin N, Koren G, Ho T, Ito S. Neonatal paroxetine withdrawal syn- drome. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2001;84:F134-F135.
4. Dahl ML, Olhager E, Ahlner J. Paroxetine withdrawal syndrome in a neonate.
Chambers et al11 reported poor neonatal adapta- Br J Psychiatry. 1997;171:391-392.
tion in nearly one third of the neonates exposed to fluox- 5. Hale T. Medications and Mothers’ Milk. 9th ed. Amarillo, Tex: Pharmasoft Pub- etine. We have recently completed a study comparing pregnancy outcome and child development among chil- 6. Spigset O, Carleborg L, Norstrom A, Sandlund M. Paroxetine level in breast milk [letter]. J Clin Psychiatry. 1996;57:39.
dren exposed to fluoxetine or tricyclic antidepressants 7. Begg EJ, Duffull SB, Saunders DA, et al. Paroxetine in human milk. Brit J Clin throughout gestation, and they did not exhibit an in- crease in prenatal complications, compared with unex- 8. Stowe ZN, Cohen LS, Ritchie JC, et al. Paroxetine in human milk and nursing posed controls.12 Whether other SSRIs have neonatal tox- infants. Am J Psychiatry. 2000;157:185-189.
icity profiles similar to paroxetine’s remains to be explored.
9. Koren G, ed. Maternal-Fetal Toxicology: A Clinician’s Guide. 3rd ed. New York, The unexpected high rates of neonatal complications with 10. Price JS, Waller PC, Wood SM, MacKay AV. A comparison of the postmarketing paroxetine are biologically consistent with the high rate safety of 4 SSRI, including investigation of symptoms occurring on withdrawal.
of discontinuation syndrome with this particular SSRI and Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1996;42:757-763.
also with its being the most pharmacologically specific 11. Chambers CD, Johnson KA, Dick LM, Felix RJ, Jones KL. Birth outcomes in preg- nant women taking fluoxetine. N Engl J Med. 1996;335:1010-1015.
of the SSRIs. More studies are needed to verify our ob- 12. Nulman I, Rovet J, Stewart DE, et al. Child development following exposure to servations and to better characterize pregnancy out- tricyclic antidepressants or fluoxetine throughout fetal life: a prospective con- trolled study. Am J Psychiatry. In press.
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