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Read Original Story

Birth defect-antidepressant link found

Rating

5 Star

Birth defect-antidepressant link found

Our Review Summary

Previous studies show that a small number of infants born to women who took SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) anti-depressants throughout pregnancy may experience heart and lung problems, and these infants may go through a withdrawal.  The large case-controlled studies discussed in this story provide new evidence that these and other birth defects of the intestines and brain may be associated with certain medications, such as paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft), but the risk is still very small.

The story describes the study designs and provides quantitative evidence translated for a lay audience.  The story provides perspective for these statistics by reminding the reader that the absolute number of birth defects associated with anti-depressants was very small and "not enough to draw firm conclusions."  The story does not quantify the benefits of using anti-depressants during pregnancy; however, the focus of the story was the potential risks of certain anti-depressants, not the potential benefits. Information on the benefits would be useful. 

Though the risk of birth defects with SSRIs is small, women may not wish to expose a developing fetus to anti-depressants during the first trimester.  The story does not mention non-medication treatment options for women managing depression during pregnancy. The story assumes that women who are not treated with SSRIs or other medications will self-medicate via drugs or alcohol; however, some women may be helped with behavioral counseling and other psychosocial support.

Finally, the story does an excellent job of citing both study authors and independent sources who provide perspective on this research.  The story notes potential conflicts of interest by listing sources’  financial ties with pharmaceutical makers, and by noting the funding sources for these studies, showing the industry competition at play in this research.

Criteria

Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

The story does not list the cost of SSRIs or other anti-depressant medications, but this is not vital in this story.  A women may choose to take less or no anti-depressant medication during pregnancy based on the recent data.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story notes the prevalence of depression in pregnant women. The story also notes the decisions women face when choosing to treat depression during pregnancy. Women who do not use medication to treat serious depression may cause harm to themselves or to their unborn child via self-harm or by using drugs and/or alcohol. The story does not quantify the benefits of using anti-depressants during pregnancy; however, the focus of the story was about the potential risks of certain anti-depressants, not the potential benefits. Information on the benefits would be useful.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Satisfactory

The story focuses on two recently published studies which found an association of certain birth defects of the heart, brain and intestines in children born to women who took certain SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy. The story provides data on these harms.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Satisfactory

The story describes the study design and provides quantitative evidence translated for a lay audience.  The story provides perspective for these statistics  by reminding the reader that the absolute number of birth defects associated with anti-depressants use during the first trimester was very small and "not enough to draw firm conclusions."

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

Satisfactory

No overt disease mongering. The story puts the risk of birth defects with anti-depressants in proper perspective. The story could also have noted the number of infants born each year with such defects as well for context – the number of infants (19,471) in these studies was accrued across years yet the story may give the impression that these congenital defects are more common than they are, especially if the general public is not aware that there are roughly 4 million births a year in the US.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Satisfactory

The story does an excellent job of citing both study authors and independent sources who provide perspective on this research.  The story notes potential conflicts of interest by listing sources’  financial ties with pharmaceutical makers and by noting the funding sources for these studies. Excellent work to make information on sources’ potential biases clear and concise.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The story does not mention the availability of non-medication treatment options for women with depression. Thought the risk of birth defects with SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) is small, women may not wish to expose a developing fetus to anti-depressants during the first trimester. The piece subtly suggests that medical management is the only treatment when other therapeutic options are supported by an evidence base. Sentences like "..could complicate decisions by pregnant women about whether to use of continue taking antidepressants, because untreated depression…" imply an individual is "untreated" for her depression if not taking medications.  This could have been an ideal venue to note the availability of other effective options.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Satisfactory

The story does mention that women have been prescribed anti-depressants in pregnancy, as they have been a standard treatment for depression since the 1980s.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

Satisfactory

The story notes that the finding that SSRI medications may cause certain birth defects is not new.  Previous studies show that a small number of infants born to women who took anti-depressants throughout pregnancy may experience heart and lung problems, and they may go through a withdrawal  These case-controlled studies discussed in this story provide new evidence that these and other birth defects of the intestines may be associated with certain medications, such as paroxetine (Paxil) and sertraline (Zoloft), but this risk is still very small.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

Satisfactory

Information in this story does not appear to be taken from a press release. The story contains independent reporting and sources are well identified. Good attention to funding sources and industry competition that is in play.

Total Score: 8 of 9 Satisfactory

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