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Recent research has linked the maternal use of Advil to the following severe, debilitating birth defects: spina bifida, cleft palate, cleft lip, amniotic band syndrome, clubfoot, microphthalmia, and anophthalmia. These birth defects are normally very rare, but they are more likely in women who took Advil during pregnancy.

Advil Overview

Advil is the brand-name of a popular painkilling medication. The active ingredient in Advil is ibuprofen, one of the most popular medications in the world. It is used by millions of people to treat mild to moderate pain, reduce inflammation, treat headaches, backaches, and more. Advil has been around since 1984, and many people believe that it is always safe to use. Unfortunately, new research suggests that Advil during pregnancy may increase a woman’s risk of having a baby with a birth defect.

Researchers have found the link between birth defects and a group of drugs known as “Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs” or NSAIDs. You probably have taken at least one NSAID in your lifetime. This group of drugs includes aspirin, naproxen, and more. They are some of the most effective drugs for treating pain, inflammation, and chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. They work by inhibiting an enzyme that is necessary for your body’s pain and inflammation response.

New research suggests that Advil and other NSAIDs may increase the risk of having a baby with a severe birth defect.

Advil and Pregnancy

The risk of having a baby with one of the following birth defects may be increased by taking Advil during pregnancy:

  • Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate: The risk of this birth defect increases by 30-80% when mothers took an NSAID during pregnancy. The severity of these conditions varies widely, as does the treatment. Sometimes babies are born with minor defects that require no treatment. In severe cases, babies are born with both cleft lip and cleft palate, and they have problems eating, sucking, and swallowing. Modern surgical techniques to treat cleft lip and cleft palate have improved greatly in recent years. Most children who undergo reconstructive surgery have little disfiguration by the time they reach adolescence.
  • Spina Bifida: The risk of having a baby with spina bifida increased by 60% when mothers took an NSAID. In most cases, spina bifida is not a serious birth defect. In the most severe cases, the baby is born with an “open” defect, in which the spinal cord is not protected and is exposed to the environment. This exposure causes irreparable damage, paralysis, and incontinence. Usually the individual must use a wheelchair.
  • Clubfoot: This birth defect is visually apparent as soon as the child is born. One foot or both feet (called “bilateral clubfoot”) are turned inward and downward at the ankle. This condition will require intensive treatment to correct the position of the foot by the time the child is learning to walk. Using the Ponseti method, which gradually stretches the foot and casts it into the correct position, a child with clubfoot can avoid extensive surgery and have a normally positioned foot within a few years.
  • Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS): Normally, when a baby is developing, is floats in a fluid-filled sac called the amniotic sac. ABS occurs when this sac ruptures, and fibrous bands float around in the amniotic fluid. If the bands become entangled around a developing baby, they can cause strangulation, miscarriage, and death. ABS is a particularly dangerous complication because it is very difficult to diagnose via an ultrasound. It often is not diagnosed until the bands begin constricting the child, causing abnormal swelling.
  • Eye Defects: Two severe eye defects that cause blindness were more than three times more likely in babies born to women who took an NSAID during pregnancy. In anophthalmia, the baby is born with no eyes, and in microphthalmia, the baby is born with significantly smaller eyes that are blind or severely impaired. There is no cure for these two defects.

Scientific Study of Advil During Pregnancy

The scientific studies that found the link between the maternal use of NSAIDs during pregnancy and the birth defects listed above was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in December 2011. The researchers gathered information that women submitted to the National Birth Defects Prevention study. Using data on 15,000 women whose babies had birth defects, the researchers then looked at data from 5,500 women whose babies had no birth defects. Looking for a link between painkillers and 29 birth defects, the researchers were pleased to announce that most of the birth defects were not in any way associated with the maternal use of painkillers. Unfortunately, some rare, severe, and debilitating birth defects were associated.

The researchers cautioned that because the birth defects were very rare to begin with, even a 60% increase translates to relatively few cases numerically. Even so, until more research is conducted, they recommend that pregnant women avoid NSAIDs, including Advil.

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