Other Dangerous SSRI's
Treating depression in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry, one that pharmaceutical companies nurture with their growing list of products. After Prozac, the first selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987, other drug manufacturers were quick to follow with antidepressants in the same class. Unfortunately, most of them are linked to the same serious side effects and birth defects that Zoloft is, and some carry the risk of other dangerous complications.
GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil (paroxetine), which came on the market in 1992, was the first antidepressant in the United States approved to treat panic attacks. It's also used by patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related illnesses.
But among its other notable "firsts" are Paxil's inability to be taken during pregnancy without harming the fetus and the drug's noticeable triggers of suicidal thoughts in children and young adults.
The FDA has labeled most SSRIs, including Zoloft, a "C" on the safety grade scale for use during pregnancy. A "C" means that high doses of the drug given to lab animals harmed them, but the effects on human babies is unknown. Paxil was reclassified to a "D" because of its known negative effects on fetuses, and the FDA says it definitely should be avoided during pregnancy.
Paxil also was the first SSRI to be linked to suicidal behavior during its clinical trials. This eventually led to the black box warning about such a risk for the entire class of medication.
Prozac (fluoxetine) is the medicine that started the SSRI family, discovered by chemists at Eli Lilly in 1974 and then marketed more than a decade later. Despite its many counterparts, Prozac remains one of the most popular antidepressants today. Its patent ended in 2001, making generic equivalents and even more widespread distribution possible.
Prozac shares almost all the same side effects and safety considerations of Zoloft: nausea, insomnia or drowsiness, anorexia or weight gain, weakness and tremors. At least one study found that patients taking Prozac have more anxiety and nervousness than those prescribed Zoloft. Both medicines have been found to have similar rates of sexual dysfunction. And on a more serious note, they have been linked to life-threatening complications and birth defects.
Celexa (citalopram hydrobromide) was established in 1998 in the United States by Forest Laboratories. Like the other SSRIs, including Zoloft, it has many dangerous side effects and birth defects linked to its use. Perhaps the most alarming, though, is Celexa's risk of deadly heart complications. The FDA has warned doctors and other health-care providers that the antidepressant should not be taken at doses greater than 40 mg per day because it can change the heart's electrical activity and lead to sudden death.
Lexapro (escitalopram), also manufactured by Forest Laboratories, is very similar to Celexa and came on the market more recently, in 2002. However, in addition to being FDA-approved to treat depression, Lexapro also can be prescribed for anxiety. Lexapro is one of the few antidepressants that is not yet available as a generic (and won't be until after 2012), and yet doctors select this more expensive option for their patients in record numbers.
What Lexapro does share with Celexa, Zoloft and the other SSRIs are all the side effects, serious complications and birth defects. In addition, researchers question whether Lexapro interferes with a woman's ability to become pregnant.
Treating depression and anxiety-related illnesses can be a complicated process that involves trying many of the medicines in the SSRI class. It is important to be aware of the dangerous nature of these drugs and fully discuss the complications with your doctor before you begin taking antidepressants.