Researchers have linked the use of painkillers during pregnancy to an increased risk of birth defects and pregnancy complications. The risk is greatest when women use opioid painkillers (such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, etc.). These drugs have been linked to an increased risk of spina bifida, heart defects, infant withdrawal syndrome, and other life-threatening complications.
UPDATE: FDA Urges Caution for Painkillers During Pregnancy
January 9, 2015 — The FDA has issued a Safety Communication to announce that a review of a dozen studies has found inconclusive evidence linking the use of common painkillers during pregnancy with birth defects. Click here to read more.
September 18, 2013 – The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology has published a study linking the use of opioid painkillers to a 2.2-fold increased risk of all birth defects, and a 2.5-fold increased risk of spina bifida. Click here to read more.
Study Links Painkillers with Birth Defects
January 5, 2012 — According to the new study, certain types of over-the-counter painkillers, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen (Aleve) increase the rate of birth defects when women take these medications during the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Birth defects of the eye were more than three times more likely. These defects included being born with no eyes, or abnormally small eyes, also known as “anopthalmia” and “microphthalmia.” About one baby in every 5,300 live births are born with these birth defects.
- Amniotic band syndrome was more than three times more likely. This physical deformity includes clubfoot, in which the child’s foot develops abnormally and is turned inward. This birth defect occurs in approximately one out of 10,000 live births.
- Cleft lip and cleft palate birth defects increased by 30-80%
- Spina bifida and neural tube birth defects increased by 60%
The study of aspirin, ibuprofen, and Aleve was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The researchers interviewed women who had children with birth defects over the phone. They found that the rate of birth defects did not increase for women who had taken Tylenol, a painkiller which is generally considered safe to use during pregnancy. The researchers cautioned women against using painkillers in a class of drugs called NSAIDs, which include Aleve, ibuprofen, and aspirin.
Other Studies of Painkillers and Birth Defects
The most recent research of NSAID painkillers is not the first study to link painkillers to birth defects. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) analyzed more than 17,500 interviews conducted with women who had babies with birth defects. 2.6% of these women had taken opioid painkillers (codeine, Oxycontin, hydrocodone, and others).
The CDC researchers found that the maternal use of these painkillers during the first trimester of pregnancy more than doubled a woman’s risk of having a child with a heart defect, especially Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which requires surgery and can be fatal. Other birth defects that were more common for women who had taken opioid painkillers were spina bifida and hydrocephaly.