CDC - Features -Birth Defects Findings

September 6, 2013 – 11:03

Physician talking with woman about medications The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has published a new CDC study: “Maternal Treatment with Opioid Analgesics and Risk for Birth Defects”. You can read the abstract of the article here. The findings from this article are summarized in the following text.

Main Findings from this Study

  • Treatment with opioid analgesics was linked with the following birth defects:
  • Spina bifida (a type of neural tube defect)
  • Hydrocephaly (build up of fluid in the brain)
  • Glaucoma (an eye defect)
  • Gastroschisis (a defect of the abdominal wall)
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Treatment with opioid analgesics just before or during early pregnancy was reported by 2% to 3% of the mothers.
  • Codeine and hydrocodone were the most frequently reported medications, representing 69% of all reported opioid analgesics used.
  • Commonly reported reasons for treatment with opioid analgesics during pregnancy included surgical procedures, infections, chronic diseases, and injuries.
  • When making treatment decisions just before or during pregnancy, it is important that women and their doctors weigh the benefits of opioid analgesic medications along with their potential risks for birth defects, including some types of congenital heart defects, which are important contributors to infant morbidity and mortality.

    The findings related to congenital heart defects were consistent with findings of previous studies showing links between the use of codeine during the first trimester and the occurrence of some heart defects. Congenital heart defects are among the most common birth defects, affecting nearly 1% of U.S. births, and are the main contributor to infant death attributable to birth defects. As mentioned earlier, previous studies have suggested that treatment with opioid analgesics might increase the risk for cleft lip and palate. However, in this study, the occurrence of cleft lip and palate did not appear to be linked with treatment with opioid analgesics.

    In this study, the findings related to some of the other birth defects were observed for the first time. For example, links between the use of opioid analgesics and the occurrence of hydrocephaly, glaucoma, or gastroschisis have not been observed in previous studies and deserve further investigation.


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