Women's College Research Institute

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Supporting informed decision-making for women managing mental illness

November 2015

Dr. Simone VigodA recent study led by scientists at Women’s College Research Institute now provides some reassurance to women who need to take antipsychotic medications during pregnancy but are worried about the impact of these drugs on their health and baby.

Antipsychotic drugs are a group of medications that are used to manage some types of mental distress or disorder—mainly schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They can also be used to help severe anxiety or depression. Although the use of these drugs during pregnancy has increased considerably over the years, until now not much was known about their impact on maternal and infant health, particularly with respect to the newer class of antipsychotic medications (called “atypical” drugs) now being prescribed.

The study, led by Dr. Simone Vigod, a scientist and psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital, was the largest to date to explore the link between atypical antipsychotic drug use during pregnancy and common medical conditions that often develop in pregnancy and with the older generation of antipsychotic drugs.

“In my clinical practice, I notice that women often struggle with the decision of whether or not to continue their antipsychotic medication during pregnancy because of the uncertainty of these drugs’ effects,” says Dr. Vigod. “The overarching purpose of my study was to produce evidence that would hopefully help make that decision a bit easier.”

Dr. Vigod found that the short-term effects of these drugs on mothers and their babies are minimal. Specifically, she found that the medications do not put women at an additional risk of developing gestational diabetes and cardiovascular complications like high blood pressure or major blood clots. In addition, the drugs do not increase the risk for pre-term delivery or having a baby with an extremely low or high birth weight—events that can have negative effects on the development and future health of the child. The findings were published in the British Medical Journal.

“Our results are encouraging for women who might be concerned about the effect of these drugs on their health and their baby, at least in the short term,” says Dr. Vigod. “However, we need to do more research to get a complete picture of the long-term impact of antipsychotic exposure.”

Having a comprehensive understanding of the full effects of antipsychotic drug use during pregnancy will help women managing mental illness make better-informed decisions about their treatment.

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