Antidepressants like Paxil have helped many people struggling with mood disorders to feel better, but for many that came at a cost. The Paxil side effects can range from mild and not harmful to severe and potentially fatal. Paxil has been around since the early 1990s when it was developed by SmithKline Beecham, now known as GlaxoSmithKline.
While drugs like Paxil play an important role in the treatment of certain mental health conditions, they can also be damaging and many people hurt by this drug feel the GlaxoSmithKline has been negligent. In addition to mild side effects like sleepiness and nausea, Paxil may cause suicidal thoughts, severe withdrawal, and even birth defects. Many people believe that the company failed to warn patients and doctors of all these potential risks.
Paxil and SSRIs
Paxil is the generic drug paroxetine. It was developed in the early ‘90s and was first approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1992. The agency approved it to treat depression, but later expanded that to include treatment of panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder. Paxil was the first drug approved to treat it. Now Paxil can also be used to treat a whole range of anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Doctors may even prescribe it to treat premenstrual dysphoric disorder and some symptoms of menopause.
Paroxetine is in a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. There are several other drugs in this class including Lexapro, Prozac, Celexa, and Zoloft. They work to treat mood disorders like depression and anxiety by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. Why this works is not fully understood, but it is thought that people struggling with mood naturally have less serotonin.
Paxil Side Effects Most Often Reported
All drugs have the potential to cause side effects, but Paxil causes more than most. Fortunately for users the majority of these are mild and not too harmful. Many of them also lessen or disappear entirely as the body adjusts to the new medication. Those most often reported include nausea, insomnia, appetite loss, constipation, excessive sweating, excessive thirst, tremors, dizziness, sleepiness, sexual dysfunction, and diarrhea.
Other side effects reported, but less often than those above include heartburn, joint pain, vomiting, nervousness, throat tightness, yawning, sore teeth and gums, gas and stomach pain, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and changes in weight. Any side effects that do not go away or become severe should be reported. Not every antidepressant is right for every patient.
Birth Defects and Autism
One of the most troubling and controversial of all Paxil side effects is the potential it has to cause birth defects and developmental problems. Paxil is not alone in this and recent research has implicated all SSRIs in increasing the risk of these issues. Women taking them during pregnancy may be putting the fetus at risk.
The risk for certain defects and miscarriages are especially high when a woman takes Paxil during the first trimester of pregnancy. Possible birth defects that have been linked with SSRIs are spina bifida, intestinal defects, heart defects, brain and skull defects, and cleft lip or cleft palate. Also associated with SSRI use is a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn. This can be fatal if not detected and treated as soon as a baby is born.
When a woman uses Paxil or other SSRIs during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, there may be an additional risk to the child. Recent research suggests that women who use the drugs during this time are at an increased risk for having a child eventually diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. While more research is needed to strengthen the evidence, it seems as if the risk may be as much as doubled.
The FDA has found through analysis of the research and reports from individuals that the risk of birth defects from using Paxil is high enough to warn patients and doctors. The agency even upped the pregnancy category for the drug from C to D to communicate the seriousness of the risk. A D rating means that there is evidence a drug can cause birth defects in human infants.
Suicide in Young Patients
Another very serious side effect of Paxil is also shared with other antidepressants. The FDA has issued strong warnings and required that these drugs carry a black box warning to indicate that there is a serious risk that they will cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors in patients under the age of 25. For this reason it is not recommended that children be prescribed Paxil, but doctors may do so at their discretion.
GlaxoSmithKline came under fire in 2012 because of this terrible side effect. Although it is rare, some young people have suffered suicidal thoughts and even committed suicide while taking Paxil. The company was accused and found guilty of promoting the drug for use in young patients, knowing full well what the risks were. It was forced to pay out $3 billion for this off-label promotion of Paxil and some of its other drugs.
In addition to these other serious side effects, Paxil can also cause serious withdrawal in anyone who stops taking it too suddenly. Also called discontinuation syndrome, the symptoms of this are very similar to those seen in people who are addicted to illegal drugs while detoxing. These symptoms may include insomnia, mood swings, anxiety, mania, irritability and anger, confusion, dizziness, headaches, tingling in the limbs, tiredness, nausea, sweating, and nightmares.
Paxil is a more potent antidepressant than most other SSRIs. This means that patients taking it are especially at risk for experiencing withdrawal side effects and for experiencing them to a severe degree. Patients need to be warned about this possibility and against trying to stop use of the drug without a doctor’s supervision. Doing so is not just uncomfortable; it can also be dangerous.
Paxil side effects are numerous. It is an effective antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication for many people, but each patient must weigh the benefits against the risk of so many side effects. With some being severe, especially for particular populations, patients also need the guidance of their doctors. They also need full disclosure from GlaxoSmithKline so they have all the information. Some don’t believe they got all the information and believe that the company was negligent in the harm Paxil caused them. This has led to lawsuits as people seek compensation. You may have also been harmed by Paxil, and if you were, you can speak with a lawyer about what your legal options are.