NSAID Use during Pregnancy Linked to Rare Birth Defects

Author: Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor

Taking over-the-counter pain medications during early pregnancy can slightly increase the risk of certain rare birth defects, according to research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The study found that infants were 3 times as likely to be born with eye defects such as anophthalmia and microphthalmia if their mothers had taken aspirin or naproxen. The risk of amniotic band syndrome, a condition that causes malformations such as clubfoot, was also 3 times higher among women who had used painkillers during their pregnancy.

However, it is not clear that the painkillers caused the deformities, according to a report from Reuters Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anophthalmia and microphthalmia occur in 1 out of 5300 births in the United States, and about 1 out of 10,000 babies are born with amniotic band syndrome.

In the study, which utilized data from the National Birth Defects Prevention study, a group of women were interviewed about the medications they took during the first trimester of their pregnancy. For example, they were asked whether they used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen.

A team of researchers led by Marlene Anderka, ScD, MPH, of the Massachusetts Center for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, compared the use of NSAIDs among 15,000 women whose babies had birth defects and 5500 women whose babies were born without any deformities.

“Of the 29 different defects we examined, we were happy that a vast majority were not tied to NSAIDs,” study co-author Martha Werler, ScD, of Boston University told Reuters.

The investigators did find that a few different types of birth defects were slightly increased in infants whose mothers reported taking ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. The risk of developing cleft palate increased by 30% to 80%, and the risk of spina bifida rose by 60% in infants whose mothers had used NSAIDs.

The results, said Werler, point to a need for further research on the topic. In the meantime, women are encouraged to consult with their physician to weigh risks and benefits of taking pain medication.