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Atrial and Ventral Septal Defects

According to a warning letter issued by the Food and Drug Administration in December 2005, women who use Paxil while pregnant are at an increased risk of giving birth to a child with atrial septal defects (ASD) or ventral septal defects (VSD), holes in the walls that separate the chambers of the heart. The FDA’s Paxil warning came as a result of a study which found that the antidepressant doubled the risk of congenital heart defects when taken during the first trimester of pregnancy.

In a normal heart, blood enters from the body into the right atrium and is sent to the right ventricle. From there, blood is pumped to the lungs, where it is enriched with oxygen, and is sent back to the heart, where it enters the left atrium. Blood then moves into the left ventricle of the heart, from which it is pumped to the rest of the body.

Blood enters the right atrium (1) and is sent to the right ventricle (2), which pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary artery (3). Blood from the lungs enters the left atrium (4) and travels to the left ventricle (5), which sends blood to the rest of the body.

In children born with ASD or VSD, holes between the two atriums or ventricles allow blood to flow sideways between the two chambers in the heart. As a result, blood that has already been enriched with oxygen in the lungs is able to flow back into the right side of the heart, forcing the heart and lungs to have to work harder to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the body.

While many ASDs and VSDs close on their own in the first two years, larger holes between the heart chambers may persist. If left untreated, this can lead to other serious conditions, including poor growth, high blood pressure in the lungs or congestive heart failure. A related condition—atrioventricular septal defects (AVSD), or holes between both the upper and lower chambers of the heart—is common among children born with Down’s syndrome.

In cases where ASDs or VSDs do not go away on their own, surgery or other treatments may be necessary. Children with signs of congestive heart failure may be placed on medication to control their symptoms. If this proves ineffective, open heart surgery may be required to close holes in the heart. Some ASDs can also be repaired without surgery by placing a device between the chambers of the heart during a cardiac catheterization.

If you or a loved one took antidepressants such as Zoloft or Paxil during pregnancy and gave birth to a child with ASD, VSD or other heart defects, you may have legal rights. Contact the lawyers at Hissey Kientz, LLP for a free consultation by calling toll-free at 1-888-776-5552, or by filling out the free case evaluation form on the right of this page.

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