CDC: Maternal Use of NSAID Painkillers Linked to Birth Defects

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A number of popular over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers have been linked in a new study to an increased risk for several types of birth defects when taken by expecting mothers. In fact, this risk was doubled – and sometimes even tripled – when pregnant women took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). OTC pain relievers belonging to the NSAID class include aspirin, Aleve, Motrin and Advil.

What’s the Problem with NSAIDs?

April 6, 2012 – According to the results of a CDC-funded study published last month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, NSAID painkillers were associated with the following types of severe congenital birth defects:

  • Cleft Lip
  • Cleft Palate
  • Anencephaly
  • Spina Bifida
  • Encephalocele
  • Anophthalmia
  • Microphthalmia
  • Transverse Limb Deficiency
  • Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS)
  • Isolated Pulmonary Valve Stenosis

These risks varied significantly from drug to drug, and from one birth defect to another. Aspirin, the most widely-used medication on the planet, was linked with the greatest increase in any one category. Three times as many expecting mothers taking aspirin gave birth to children with anophthalmia (baby born with no eyes) or microphthalmia (abnormally small eyes) than women who did not take the drug during pregnancy.

These findings, which were based on data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, support research published last year that identified a link between NSAIDs and eye birth defects. The authors of both studies have indicated that more in-depth analysis is needed to determine whether the birth defects are dose specific, and whether new warning label indications are necessary. Health experts have cautioned that both doctors and patients should weigh the potential risks versus benefits of taking NSAIDs prior to initiating a regimen.

Which Drugs Belong to the NSAID Class?

Pain medications from the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug class include:

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