-- HealthDay staff
WEDNESDAY, March 2 (HealthDay News) -- Moms-to-be who take
prescription opioid painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone or
oxycodone (Oxycontin) may increase the risk of birth defects in
their newborns, according to a new U.S. government report.
Taking these types of analgesics just prior to pregnancy or in
the early stages of pregnancy was linked to a modest risk of
congenital heart defects in an ongoing population study, according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The risk for spina bifida, hydrocephaly, congenital glaucoma and
gastroschisis was also heightened, the report said.
"Women who are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, should know there are risks associated with using prescription painkillers," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, in an agency news release. "They should only take medications that are essential, in consultation with their health care provider. "
In the study of data from 10 states, the CDC researchers found
that 2 percent to 3 percent of mothers interviewed received
prescription opioid pain killers, or analgesics, just before they
got pregnant or early in their pregnancy. Any illicit use of
painkillers was not assessed.
For those women, the risk of having a baby with hypoplastic left
heart syndrome -- a critical heart defect -- was about double that
of women who took no opioid drugs.
About 40,000 infants are born with congenital heart defects in
the United States each year. Many of these babies die within a
year, while the surviving infants may undergo lengthy
hospitalizations, multiple operations and ongoing treatment for
related medical problems, the CDC said.
According to the report, published in the
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the safety of most medications taken during pregnancy has not been established.
Many factors may influence the risks, including: how much
medication a woman takes; at what stage of pregnancy she takes it;
any other health conditions she has; and any other medications she
However, the study authors noted that the risk from prescription
painkillers in any one pregnancy is small.
"It's important to acknowledge that although there is an increased risk for some types of major birth defects from an exposure to opioid analgesics, that absolute risk for any individual woman is relatively modest," lead author Cheryl S. Broussard, of CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in the news release.
"However, with very serious and life-threatening birth defects like hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the prevention of even a small number of cases is very important," she said, adding that it's important for any woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant talk to her doctor before taking any medication.
The CDC said its National Birth Defects Prevention Study is the
largest ever done on causes of birth defects in the United
To learn more about birth defects, visit the
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