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New research has linked Celebrex and other NSAID painkilling medications to these severe birth defects: spina bifida, clubfoot, two eye defects that cause blindness, amniotic band syndrome, cleft lip, and cleft palate.

UPDATE: Study Links Celebrex and Increased Risk of Death After Stroke

November 7, 2014 — Neurology has published a study adding growing evidence that painkillers in the COX-2 inhibitor class, such as Celebrex, may increase a patients risk of death in the 30 days following a stroke. Click here to read more.

Celebrex Overview

Celebrex (rofecoxib) is a type of painkilling, anti-inflammatory medication closely related to several medications. It is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, also known as an “NSAID,” and you probably have at least one of these in your medicine cabinet: nonselective NSAIDs include common medications, such as aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Celebrex is a COX-2 selective NSAID. Other selective NSAIDs include: Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib).

All of these medications treat pain and inflammation by inhibiting an enzyme that is involved in your body’s inflammation response. Celebrex is primarily prescribed to people who have arthritis — either because the protective tissue around their joints is inflamed, or because it has broken down and worn away, forcing the bones to grind against each other. It is also used by women who are suffering from menstrual pain. Celebrex is also used by some people who suffer an overgrowth of polyps in their colon and are at an increased risk of cancer.

Talk to your doctor if you are taking Celebrex and you become pregnant, or are thinking of becoming pregnant. Celebrex may affect your unborn child. It has been linked to several serious, life-threatening birth defects, especially in women who took Celebrex during the last trimester of pregnancy.

Celebrex and Pregnancy

New research has linked NSAID painkillers, including Celebrex, to several rare birth defects. These serious, life-threatening birth defects were:

  • Clubfoot: This birth defect is visually apparent as soon as a baby is born, because one or both feet are turned sharply inward and may be upside-down. The birth defect is caused by tendons and ligaments in the foot being abnormally short. It is readily treatable with gradual stretching, because a baby’s tendons and ligaments are very flexible early in life.
  • Birth Defects of the Eye: NSAIDs have been linked to a three-fold increase in the rate of anophthalmia, a condition where a baby is born with no eyes, and microphthalmia, a condition where a baby is born with much smaller eyes than normal. Both these conditions cause blindness.
  • Amniotic Band Syndrome: This is complication of pregnancy that can cause birth defects. It is three times more likely to occur when a pregnant mother took an NSAID during pregnancy. It occurs when bands of the amniotic sac separate from the uterus, and the developing infant becomes wrapped in the bands. Severity depends on how tightly the baby is entangled, but it can cause amputation of fingers, limbs, and death in serious cases.
  • Cleft Lip / Cleft Palate: Oral clefts were 30-80% more likely to occur in babies born to mothers who took NSAIDs during pregnancy. A cleft lip occurs when the upper lip is separated into a right and left side, and may be just a notch in the lip or a wide separation that extends into the nose. A cleft palate occurs in the roof of the mouth, and may involve the hard palate and/or the soft palate. Oral clefts often cause problems feeding, sucking, swallowing, and breathing, and require surgery to correct.
  • Spina Bifida: Celebrex and other NSAIDs increase the risk of having a baby with spina bifida by 60%. Spina bifida is a serious birth defect that often causes paralysis and disability. It occurs when the neural tube fails to close in a developing baby, leaving a hole in the spine at the base of the skull that exposes the spinal cord to amniotic fluid in the womb. The resulting nerve damage is irreversible.

The researchers whose study linked the maternal use of NSAIDs to these birth defects studied data on 15,000 women whose babies had birth defects, and compared this information to 5,500 women whose babies had no birth defects. The researchers also stressed that even a three-fold increase in the risk of a rare birth defect translates to relatively few cases, and the risk is still small. More studies are needed to conclusively determine the risk of birth defects associated with this common group of painkillers. Until those studies are completed, they recommend that pregnant women avoid this class of medications during pregnancy, and especially during the last trimester of pregnancy. Pregnant women should consult a physician about all prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, and dietary supplements — some types of medicine can cause harm to an unborn child.

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