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Some Painkillers Tied to Certain Birth Defects in Study

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Posted September 12, 2013

Women taking prescription painkillers such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet early in pregnancy are twice as likely to give birth to babies with devastating neural tube defects such as spina bifida, a new study suggests.

Despite the doubled risk, researchers described the escalation as “modest” since neural tube defects — which include those of the brain and spine — seldom occur. With study participants’ use of prescription opioids, the risk of these birth defects translated to a prevalence of nearly six per 10,000 live births.

“We want to keep in mind that major birth defects of any kind affect only 2 percent to 3 percent of live births, so the risks we’ve identified should be kept in perspective,” said study author Mahsa Yazdy, a postdoctoral associate at Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University. “Even though we found a doubling in the risk of neural tube defects, these are still rare occurrences.”

Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study was published online Sept. 9 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology in advance of the October 2013 print issue.

Defects of the neural tube, which typically occur in the first month of pregnancy, include problems such as spina bifida, where the spinal column doesn’t close completely, and anencephaly, where most of the brain and skull don’t develop. The new study echoes findings from previous research linking birth defects with early pregnancy opioid use.

Prescription painkillers are second only to marijuana when it comes to drug abuse, according to a January 2013 government report, and about 22 million Americans have misused these painkillers since 2002.

Read more at: MedlinePlus

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