Study Sees Link Between Asthma Meds, Three Birth Defects

A new study has linked the use of some asthma drugs prior to or during the early stages of pregnancy with an increased risk of three specific birth defects.

Medscape.com is reporting on a new study appearing in the journal Pediatrics, conducted by researchers on behalf of the New York Dept. of Health and Center for Environmental Health. The study concluded there is a “statistically significant” spike in the risk of the birth defects isolated esophageal atresia, isolated anorectal atresia, and omphalocele if an expecting mother takes drugs often prescribed in the treatment of asthma.

The study focused on the use of anti-inflammatory and bronchodilator drugs or a combination of both among women just before getting pregnant or during the first three months of the gestation period once they were pregnant. Information for the research was gleaned from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study and used evidence from more than 9,500 births happening between 1997 and 2005. Among those, more than 6,700 births were included in the control group where a baby was born with no birth defects. More than 2,800 births, stillbirths or “elective terminations” were included in the study data.

A statistically significant increased risk of isolated esophageal atresia was noted with use of bronchodilator drugs, specifically. Using a combination of a bronchodilator and an anti-inflammatory, or just an anti-inflammatory was marked by an “elevated” risk of this specific defect, but not at the rate of a bronchodilator alone.

Using only ant-inflammatory drugs to treat a pregnant woman’s asthma symptoms caused a statistically significant increased risk of isolated anorectal atresia, according to the study. Also, using a combination of both bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs caused a statistically significant increased risk of isolated omphalocele.

As many as two-thirds of asthmatic women who took a bronchodilator drug throughout their entire pregnancy gave birth to a baby with these birth defects, the study’s authors wrote.

During the course of the study, researchers were able to eliminate the risk of several other birth defects by taking either anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators or both: neural tube defects, anencephaly, spina bifida, small intestinal atresia, limb deficiency, and diaphragmatic hernia.

Despite the research showing an increased risk of these three birth defects, study authors believe the current clinical guidelines for prescribing these drugs to pregnant women or those about to become pregnant should “remain unchanged.” It is unsure whether the drugs used to treat asthma or the affliction itself was responsible for the birth defects.

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