Zoloft Birth Defects

Zoloft, the generic name of which is sertraline hydrochloride, belongs to a cluster of medicines that work on blocking the reuptake of the neurotransmitter serotonin in order to manage certain conditions like anxiety and mood disorders and alleviate their associated symptoms. According to data gathered in 2007, almost 30 million prescriptions of the drug were handed out in the United States. Among the many people who take Zoloft are pregnant women, and there has been several claims of the drug causing certain birth defects in the children borne by these women. Below is more information on the common birth defects that Zoloft may give rise to:

Zoloft and Cleft Lip/Palates


A cleft lip is described as a craniofacial anomaly wherein the skin between the nose and the upper portion of the lip is not totally fused together. A person may have one cleft (unilateral cleft lip) or two clefts (bilateral cleft lip). A cleft palate, on the other hand, is characterized by the presence of an opening found between the nasal cavity and the roof of the mouth. This condition may affect the rear palate, the front palate, or both. In most cases, a cleft palate is accompanied by a cleft lip. This isn’t always the case, though. Out of the estimated 5,000 babies in the US who are born with a cleft per year, fifty percent is born with only a cleft palate.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2007, there is no strong association or link between craniofacial malformations and the use of Zoloft in the antenatal period. It also concluded that the defects in question are quite rare so if there is any absolute risk, they are small. However, this is the only study of its kind so the findings aren’t totally conclusive.

Zoloft and Clubbed Foot


Known in the medical field as Congenital Talipes Equinovarus, clubbed foot is another defect that may develop in the womb and manifest itself during birth. Its incidence is approximately one in every one thousand babies born. A child afflicted with this condition has one foot (or both) abnormally twisted inward at the ankle.

One particular study done from 1993 to 2004 by Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University assessed the risks of using an antidepressant during the first trimester of pregnancy, which was defined as 28 days prior to a woman’s last menstrual period to 112 days after that time period. The said study found out that Zoloft use could place an unborn baby at risk of developing clubbed foot. In the year 2006, a US FDA warning came out that advised pregnant women to be cautious about using Zoloft and other antidepressants as they may cause certain birth defects like clubbed foot.

Zoloft and Septal Heart Defects

Defects in the heart’s septum are the result of the failure of the septum, which is the layer of tissue that separates the heart’s left and right sides, to form properly. Such a condition would lead to the mixing of oxygenated blood from the left side of the heart and unoxygenated blood from the right side, which in turn will reduce the heart’s efficiency and interfere with proper tissue perfusion. If severe enough, septal heart defects may require surgical intervention.

Dr. Lars Henning Pedersen’s study established a clear and strong link between Zoloft and septal heart defects. The said study discovered that intake of an SSRI in the first trimester increases the probability of bearing a child with septal heart defect to as much as one hundred percent. Zoloft, in particular, was more dangerous than the other SSRI antidepressants as the likelihood of developing the defect was 3.25 times higher. The FDA has already issued a warning about the risk.

Even though some studies show a weak link between the drug and the development of certain health problems, one can’t be entirely sure. Clearly, pregnant women need to consult their physicians in order to weigh the benefits of Zoloft therapy against the possible risks to their unborn children.