Effexor is an antidepressant drug first created by Wyeth, a company that was later bought by Pfizer. It was an early type of serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression and brought out to the market in 1993. Since then it has helped many people cope with depression, as well as anxiety disorders, but there have been some issues too.
Like other antidepressants, Effexor was found to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts in young patients. Effexor has also been linked with serious birth defects and both Wyeth and Pfizer have faced lawsuits as a result. If you have been taking Effexor and gave birth to a child with birth defects, you could have a case against the drug companies. Cases are also being made in the name of young people who died because of suicide while taking Effexor. For many people this drug has been a help, but for those who have suffered because of it, a lawsuit may be the only way to get compensated.
How Effexor Works as an Antidepressant
The generic name for Effexor is venlafaxine, which is a type of antidepressant called a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, or SNRI. This class of antidepressant works to treat depression by acting on certain neurotransmitters. These are the signaling molecules of the brain and neurons. Effexor acts on the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine.
It acts by blocking re-absorption, or reuptake of these two neurotransmitters. This has the effect of raising levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. Both of these are associated with mood and it is thought that people struggling with depression have lower levels of the neurotransmitters than is normal. An SNRI like Effexor boosts the levels, but it doesn’t take effect immediately. It can take several weeks of treatment before the mood-boosting effect is felt.
Other Uses for Effexor
Depression is the main use for Effexor, but it can also be used to treat certain anxiety disorders. These include social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Depression and anxiety are the conditions Effexor is approved to treat, but some doctors may prescribe it off-label for other reasons. These include cataplexy, which is a muscle weakness and a symptom of narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder. Effexor may also be prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
There are many possible side effects a person taking Effexor may experience. Most are mild and many of them will decrease or go away entirely after taking the drug for a while. If they do not, or if they are severe, they should be reported to a doctor. Some of the common side effects are gastrointestinal: stomach pain, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, vomiting, gas, and heart burn.
Other side effects include being weak, drowsy, or tired, having headaches or nightmares, muscle twitching, sweating and hot flashes, numbness, tingling, or shaking. You may also experience a loss of appetite, weight loss, dry mouth, or an inability to taste food. Flu-like symptoms, frequent or difficult urination, and changes in sexual ability are also possible.
Side effects of Effexor that are serious and should be reported immediately for medical attention include a fever, a rash, hives, and itching, difficulty breathing, seizures, a fast heartbeat, bruising, a lack of coordination, hallucinations, chest pains, eye pain, and loss of consciousness.
Like other antidepressants, Effexor carries a very serious, but rare risk of suicidal thoughts and actions. This seems to occur only in children, adolescents, and young adults up to the age of 24. For this reason, Effexor is not recommended for people 18 and under unless it is the best possible option for treatment of depression or another condition.
Although the risk is rare, it is serious and life-threatening and has warranted a black box warning from the FDA. Any young person taking Effexor should be monitored for signs of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. These include any sign of thoughts of self-harm, irritability and mood swings, mania, unusual worrying, agitation, panic attacks, unusual aggression, and impulsive behaviors. It is also important to monitor a young person for any behavioral changes that seem out of the ordinary, as they could indicate suicidal thoughts.
A big risk with taking Effexor and other antidepressants is the development of withdrawal or discontinuation syndrome. This happens when someone taking the drug stops using it suddenly. They may experience irritability, mood swings, excessive sweating, insomnia, nightmares, tingling, numbness, burning sensations, anxiety, diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, as well as any other signs of withdrawal. These effects occur if you stop taking the drug suddenly. You should never stop taking Effexor without your doctor’s guidance to help you wean yourself from it slowly and safely.
The FDA issued a warning in 2006 that a rare, but serious and life-threatening condition is possible in people who take Effexor. Called serotonin syndrome, this condition may cause mania and hallucinations, sweating, trembling, and weakness, hypertension, hyperthermia, coma, and respiratory failure. It is thought to be caused by an accumulation of serotonin in the brain and can be treated by stopping use of the antidepressant. In severe cases, other types of treatment may be needed and it can be life-threatening if not treated.
Birth Defects and Miscarriage
That Effexor may cause birth defects or increase the risk of having a miscarriage is a more recent finding, but one that is very serious. One study, for example, found that mothers using Effexor during pregnancy were more likely to have children with birth defects, including cleft palate and heart defects. Other studies have found similar connections. Although the reasons are not fully understood, it may be that the higher levels of serotonin and norepinephrine cause defects in a fetus.
Other studies have found that taking Effexor or other antidepressants increases the risk that a woman will have a miscarriage. The use of antidepressants increased this risk by as much as 68 percent. These risks of miscarriage and birth defects put women in a difficult position, especially when not all experts are convinced of the risk.
The evidence that Effexor is linked with birth defects and an increased risk of miscarriage is strong enough to merit a number of lawsuits against Wyeth and Pfizer. Two mothers filed a suit after their children were born with serious defects. The risks of suicide have also led to lawsuits after young people taking Effexor committed suicide. Plaintiffs in these cases say that the drug companies did not do enough to warn doctors and patients of the risks of taking Effexor.
If you have taken Effexor, or if someone you love has taken this drug to find relief from depression, and suffered serious side effects as a consequence, you may have a case that could win you monetary damages. Compensation after the suicide of a loved one or for a child with a serious birth defect can’t fix the problem, but it does serve as punitive damages to the drug companies and could help you pay the many bills you may have accumulated because of illnesses, injuries, or suicides. If you think you may have a case against Effexor, a lawyer could help you make your case.