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Pain Killers Taken During Pregnancy Can Cause Birth Defects Says CDC

February 9, 2015 – Doctors often recommend that pregnant women avoid certain things: raw food, some medications, alcoholic beverages, and exposure to first or second-hand smoke, to name a few. Unfortunately, in the last decade or so, the instance of women using medications approved by their doctors during pregnancy has increased, but the results have often been less than beneficial.

Developing Babies are at Risk when Mothers Take Painkillers before Realizing they are Pregnant

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show about a third of all women in the United States that are of childbearing age are regularly taking opioid painkillers. The data was released in a recent report issued to warn pregnant women of the dangers of using these medications when pregnant.

The report cited information from a recent study that observed women aged 15 through 44 enrolled in Medicaid programs. About 39% had been given a painkiller prescription annually over the course of the four year study.

The study also determined women in the Medicaid program were about 10% more likely to be taking pain killers than those with private health insurance. The study did not provide data about the number of women from the groups that actually became pregnant.

The concern is that women will continue taking medication they are already using after conceiving prior to realizing they are pregnant. Unfortunately, this is often the time during pregnancy when medication can have the most devastating results. Opioid medications early in a pregnancy also pose a risk to the mother.

The study found that opioid prescription use varied from region to region, with the highest numbers in the South and the lowest in the Northeast. White women used opioids about one and a half times more frequently than minorities.

Women Taking Painkillers to Deal with Discomfort during Pregnancy

A previous study published in 2013 in the journal Anesthesiology reported that one in every seven pregnant women are prescribed painkillers during their pregnancy. Approximately 6% of women in the United States were prescribed painkillers during their first and second trimester. The rate rose to 6.5% during the final trimester.

In addition to the concerns regarding development early in a pregnancy, medical experts also suspect newborns could experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a type of withdrawal, from the medication after birth.

Experts recommend that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant discuss the risks of painkillers with their doctors before taking any medication. There is new information available, so even if a woman took a painkiller safely in a previous pregnancy, she will want to learn of any new risks involved. Previous studies have shown the effects of opioids on developing babies to be negligible, but one long-term US study conducted between 1997 and 2005 concluded that opioids were a factor in the development of spina bifida, heart defects, and gastrochisis in newborns.

Health officials also encourage women to explore other pain relief alternatives that are natural or at least not as risky as opioids. Every pregnancy is different and there may be rare instances in which pain is severe enough to risk complications, but at the current rates, doctors and patients are being far too liberal with painkiller use.

Show Sources
  1. http://nationalpainreport.com/cdc-pregnant-women-on-painkillers-put-babies-at-risk-8825652.html
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2015/01/22/many-women-who-might-become-pregnant-are-getting-prescription-painkillers-that-can-cause-birth-defects/