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Medications to treat depression and anxiety triple the risk of preeclampsia

Québec City, May 22, 2019–Pregnant women taking medication for depression or anxiety are three times more likely to suffer from preeclampsia, a hypertensive disorder that can have serious repercussions for both baby and mother. These are the findings of a study published recently in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth by researchers from Université Laval and the CHU de Québec–Université Laval Research Centre.

About 5% of pregnant women suffer from hypertensive disorders including preeclampsia, a condition that can lead to convulsions and endanger the health of the child and mother. Some studies published previously suggested that taking antidepressants or anxiolytics might increase a woman's risk for gestational hypertension. To find out for sure, a group of researchers led by Drs. Jean-Claude Forest and Yves Giguère, professors at the Université Laval Faculty of Medicine, examined the relationship between taking these medications and preeclampsia in a cohort of 6,761 pregnant women.

Their analysis shows that the risk of developing hypertension or preeclampsia is 3.1 times higher among women who started taking antidepressants or anxiolytics before the 16th week of their pregnancy than those who did not take medication. The researchers also observed that the risk increases to 3.4 times for women who continue the medication after the 16th week, but that it drops to 1.6 times if they stop the treatment.

«Our study suggests that you can partially reverse the risk of preeclampsia by stopping antidepressants or anxiolytics before the 16th week,» explains Dr. Giguère. «Obviously you would have to closely monitor the mental health of those women who choose to stop their medication and opt for alternative therapies. The situation is trickier for women who do not have the option to stop medication. However, earlier studies suggest that a daily dose of aspirin started before the 16th week of pregnancy may reduce the risk of preeclampsia, especially in women at high risk.»

Experts estimate that up to 10% of women take antidepressants and 5% take anxiolytics to treat mood disorders during pregnancy.

The authors of the study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth are Nathalie Bernard, Jean-Claude Forest, George Tarabulsy, Emmanuel Bujold, Damien Bouvier, and Yves Giguère.

Yves Giguère
Faculty of Medicine
Université Laval
418-525-4444 ext. 53712 

Jean-François Huppé
Media Relations
Université Laval