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Decongestant Drugs During Pregnancy May Cause Birth Defects

Filed July 23rd, 2013 Joshua Sophy

Women who take common over-the-counter decongestant drugs during the first portion of their pregnancies are putting their unborn child at risk of some rare birth defects.

A report from Reuters Health notes that a new study from researchers at Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University has linked use of decongestants phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine to birth defects. The birth defects linked to use of these drugs are related to the digestive tract, ears, and heart.

Overall, the risk of these birth defects is low, relatively (about 1 in 1,000 children born to mothers who took these drugs will develop these physical defects). The researchers said that not all these birth defects are life-threatening but some will require surgery to correct. The information for the study was gleaned from birth records collected between 1993 and 2010 and decongestant use was based on interviews nurses conducted with newborn mothers, Reuters notes.

Specifically, use of phenylephrine was linked to an eight-times greater risk of the heart defect endocardial cushion defect. Phenylpropanolamine (sold as Acutrim) use during the first trimester was also linked to an eight-times higher risk of defects to the ears and stomach. These links were not new but were confirmed by the recent study. What researchers did discover was a link between early-pregnancy use of pseudoephedrine and complications known as limb-reduction defects, Reuters adds in its report. Using pseudoephedrine was linked to a three-times greater risk of that birth defect.

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