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Antidepressants may raise gestational diabetes risk

A pill bottle with pills spilling out of it.

Oct. 28, 2019—It's always important for women to tell their doctors about all of the medicines they take if they're planning to get pregnant. Now, a new study stresses the importance of that message, especially if a woman is taking an antidepressant: The drugs are linked to an increased risk of gestational diabetes.

That's when a woman develops diabetes (high blood sugar levels) for the first time while pregnant. The disease can cause problems for moms and babies. Among them: The baby may be born too large, which could make it necessary to have a cesarean birth. Gestational diabetes also can affect the long-term health of a mom and baby.

The study looked at data on thousands of pregnancies in Canada from 1998 to 2015. Overall, it found that women taking antidepressants had a 19% higher risk of developing gestational diabetes than those who did not take the medicines.

Just over 4% of the women took an antidepressant alone or in combination with another medicine.

Spotlight on two drugs

The study linked the drugs Effexor (venlafaxine) and Elavil (amitriptyline) to the greatest risk. Women who took Effexor had a 27% increased risk of diabetes, and those who took Elavil had a 52% heightened risk.

Effexor is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), and Elavil belongs to an older class of drugs called tricyclics.

For women in this study, the risk of gestational diabetes also increased the longer they took SNRIs and tricyclics.

What was the link?

The study was an observational one, so it couldn't prove that taking an antidepressant caused diabetes during pregnancy. It only shows that the medicines were linked to a higher risk.

Still, the researchers did offer a few theories about how that might happen. One has to do with how antidepressants affect the use of blood sugar in the body. The other is that antidepressants may cause weight gain, which is a risk factor for diabetes.

Weighing pros and cons

The results of this study suggest that women who are prescribed an antidepressant should talk with their doctor about the pros and cons of taking the medicine while they're pregnant. That's particularly true for women with depression that is severe, the study's authors said.

For many women, the potential risks may be outweighed by the benefits of treating depression, which is a serious illness.

The study was published in BMJ Open.

More than the blues

Untreated depression may make it hard for a pregnant woman to stay healthy. Learn about the warning signs and the risks of depression during pregnancy.

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