First trimester exposure to paroxetine and risk of cardiac malformations in infants: the importance of dosage

Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol. 2007 Feb;80(1):18-27. doi: 10.1002/bdrb.20099.


Background: Conflicting findings with regard to the teratogenic risks of first trimester use of paroxetine have prompted the FDA, Health Canada, and the manufacturer of the drug to issue warnings against its use during pregnancy. Given that untreated depression during pregnancy can lead to deleterious effect on the mother and her unborn fetus, data on the relationship between the dose and the range of malformations is warranted. This study attempts to quantify the association between first trimester exposure to paroxetine and congenital cardiac malformations, adjusting for possible confounders, and to quantify the dose-response relationship between paroxetine use and cardiac defects.

Methods: The Medication and Pregnancy registry was used. This population-based registry was built by linking three administrative databases (RAMQ, Med-Echo, and ISQ), and includes all pregnancies in Quebec between 01/01/1997 and 06/30/2003. Date of entry in the registry is the date of the first day of the last menstrual period. To be eligible for this study, women had to: 1) be 15-45 years of age at entry; 2) be covered by the RAMQ drug plan >or=12 months before and during pregnancy; 3) be using only one type of antidepressant during the first trimester; and 4) have a live birth. Two nested case-control studies were carried out comparing the prevalence of paroxetine use in the first trimester of pregnancy to the prevalence of other antidepressant exposures during the same time period. Cases were defined as: 1) any major malformations; or 2) any cardiac malformations diagnosed in the first year of life; controls were defined as no major or minor malformations. Multivariate logistic regression techniques were used to analyze data.

Results: Among the 1,403 women meeting inclusion criteria, 101 infants with major congenital malformations were identified; 24 had cardiac malformations. Adjusting for possible confounders, the use of paroxetine (odds ratio [OR] = 1.38, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.49-3.92), and the use of other SSRIs (OR = 0.89, 95% CI = 0.28-2.84) during the first trimester of pregnancy did not increase the risk of congenital cardiac malformations compared with the use of non-SSRI antidepressants. When considering the dose, however, a dose-response relationship was observed, thus women exposed to >25 mg/day of paroxetine during the first trimester of pregnancy were at increased risk of having an infant with major congenital malformations (adjusted [adj] OR = 2.23, 95% CI = 1.19, 4.17), or major cardiac malformations (adj OR = 3.07, 95% CI = 1.00, 9.42).

Conclusions: Gestational exposure to paroxetine is associated with major congenital malformations and major cardiac malformations for only first trimester exposure above 25 mg/day.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / etiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / adverse effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / chemically induced*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Paroxetine / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / adverse effects*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Paroxetine