Prescription Painkiller Use in Pregnancy Can Cause Birth Defects

Women of child bearing age who use prescription pain medications to treat your migraines or other chronic pain: Listen up. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have established a connection between use of oxycodone, codeine and hydrocodone in early pregnancy and serious birth defects.

A relationship between use of opioid pain medications and birth defects has been observed since the 1970s, but unfortunately this did not change the way doctors prescribed pain medications for pregnant women.

The most commonly observed birth defects were glaucoma (an eye disease that leads to blindness by damaging the optic nerve), congenital heart defects, spina bifida (incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord or protective covering of the brain or spinal cord) and hydrocephaly (build up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain). Previous studies had suggested a link between opioid use in pregnancy and cleft lip and palate, but this CDC study did not find that connection.

The CDC funds a National Birth Defects Prevention Study that collects data about medication use and birth defects. This study is working to identify risk factors for birth defects and establish connections between medication use and occurrence of birth defects.

The overall increased risk of birth defects is actually quite low. However, it’s definitely something to be aware of and carefully discuss with your doctor if you’re planning a pregnancy or are currently pregnant. For some people the benefits of using these pain medications will outweigh the risk, but this is a personal decision that varies greatly from woman to woman.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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