Opiod pain-killers such as codeine, oxycodone or hydrocodone can boost the risk of birth defects if they’re taken just before or early in pregnancy, according to a new government study.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It found two to three percent of mothers who were interviewed had been treated with prescription opiod pain medications or analgesics just before or early in their pregnancy.
About one in 33 babies in the U.S. is born with a birth defect, and birth defects account for one in five infant deaths, according to the CDC.
The most common opiod pain-killer taken just before or during pregnancy was hydrocodone (which is often prescribed as Vicodin, a mixture of hydrocodone and acetaminophen) and codeine, the study found. Treatment with these drugs was linked to several types of congenital heart defects, along with spinal bifida, hydrocephaly, congenital glaucoma and gastroschisis. The CDC defined the increased risk of birth defects from taking opiods as increased but modest.
The study also found women taking prescription opoids just before or during early pregnancy had about two times the risk for having a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, one of the most critical heart defects, as women who didn’t take take opiod medicines, according to the CDC.
The study findings are from an an ongoing population-based study that is the largest ever done on the caues of birth defects in the U.S. and includes 10 participating states.
Congenital heart defects are the most common kind of birth defect, affecting nearly 40,000 annual births in the U.S. Many babies with congenital heart defects die before their first birthdays, and those who live wind up having several surgeries, long hospital stays and lifetime treatment for disabilities.
What about other medications? The CDC says the safety of most medications taken during pregnancy hasn’t been determined, and depends on such factors as how much is being taken, when during the pregnancy it’s being taken, what other health conditions the women has and what other medications she’s taking. Bottom line: Consult your doctor, even before taking a dietary or herbal product, advised the study’s lead author, Cheryl Broussard.
Some tips from the CDC website for steps women can take to increase the chance of avoiding birth defects and having a healthy baby:
— Take 400 mcg of folic acid a day, starting at least one month before getting pregnant.
— Don’t drink alcohol, smoke, or use street drugs.
— Talk to a health care provider about taking any medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements. Also talk to a doctor before stopping any medications that are needed to treat health conditions.
— Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy.
— If possible, be sure any medical conditions are under control, before becoming pregnant. Some conditions that increase the risk for birth defects include diabetes and obesity.