Opioid Use Linked To Babies Being Born With Birth Defect

Opioid Use Linked To Babies Being Born With Birth Defect

Opioid Use Linked To Babies Being Born With Birth Defect

Opioid Use Linked To Babies Being Born With Birth Defect.

Rates of a serious birth defect are on the rise in the United States, and a new report suggests the condition may be linked to opioid use.

A birth defect is a problem that occurs when a baby is developing in utero (in the womb). Approximately 1 out of every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect.

Birth defects can be minor or severe. They may affect appearance, organ function, and physical and mental development. Most birth defects are present within the first three months of pregnancy, when the organs are still forming. Some birth defects are harmless. Others require long-term medical treatment. Severe birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of deaths.

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And according to a report, published Jan. 17 by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looks at cases of gastroschisis, a birth defect in which a baby is born with his or her intestines outside the body, due to a hole in the abdominal wall.

What Can Cause Birth Defect?

There are basically several factors which could lead to birth defect to an unborn child during pregnancy. But some of these factors are:

  • Genetics
  • Lifestyle choices and behaviors
  • Exposure to certain medications and chemicals
  • Infections during pregnancy
  • A combination of these factors

However, the exact causes of certain birth defects are often unknown. The new report analyzed information on gastroschisis cases in 20 U.S. states and found that the rate of gastroschisis increased 10 percent from 2006 to 2010, to 2011 to 2015. Specifically, the report found that the rate of gastroschisis rose from 4.2 cases per 10,000 live births in 2006 to 2010, to 4.5 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011 to 2015. The largest increases were seen in babies born to mothers in their 20s and 30s.

But the new report hints at a link to the opioid epidemic. The researchers found that the prevalence of gastroschisis was 1.6 times higher in counties with high rates of prescription opioid use, compared with counties with low prescription opioid rates.

Still, the researchers noted that the study only found an association, and cannot prove that opioid use causes gastroschisis. The study examined opioid use and gastroschisis rates only at a population level, and did not have information on whether women who had babies with gastroschisis were exposed to opioids.

Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, who was not involved in the study, said that this rise in occurrences of gastroschisis is concerning. And the fact that rates are rising not only in women under 20, who are thought to be at highest risk, but also in older age groups is “even more alarming,” Aftab told Live Science. This suggests that “there’s something changing” about the usual patterns of gastroschisis epidemiology.

Aftab noted that she and her colleagues have also noticed an increase in gastroschisis cases in their hospital’s fetal program, even in the last six months.

Gastroschisis is a serious condition that can cause swelling, twisting and damage to the baby’s intestines before birth. Even after surgery, it may take weeks for the bowels to start functioning, and babies may be in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for months.

The link to opioids seen in the new report is an interesting signal, said Aftab, though she also cautioned that the report cannot determine causality.

But “it does guide where we need to direct our research and how we can answer these questions,” she said. For example, basic science studies in animals can look at whether opioids disrupt blood vessels or the bowel tissue when taken during pregnancy. And researchers can also look at whether there’s a link among high-risk populations of women who use opioids in pregnancy.

What Are The Risk Factors For Birth Defects Being A Pregnant Mother?

All pregnant women have some risk of delivering a child with a birth defect. Risk increases under any of the following conditions:

  • family history of birth defects or other genetic disorders
  • drug use, alcohol consumption, or smoking during pregnancy
  • maternal age of 35 years or older
  • inadequate prenatal care
  • untreated viral or bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections
  • use of certain high-risk medications, such as isotretinoin and lithium

Women with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, are also at a higher risk of having a child with a birth defect.

How Are Birth Defects Treated?

Treatment are depending on the condition and level of severity. Some birth defects can be corrected before birth or shortly after. Other defects, however, may affect a child for the rest of their life. Severe birth defects, such as cerebral palsy or spina bifida, can cause long-term disability or even death. Speak with your doctor about the appropriate treatment for your child’s condition.

Medications: Medications may be used to treat some birth defects or to lower the risk of complications from certain defects. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to the mother to help correct an abnormality before birth.

Surgeries: Surgery can fix certain defects or ease harmful symptoms. Some people with physical birth defects, such as cleft lip, may undergo plastic surgery for either health or cosmetic benefits. Many babies with heart defects will need surgery, as well.

Home care: Parents may be instructed to follow specific instructions for feeding, bathing, and monitoring an infant with a birth defect.

How Can Birth Defects Be Prevented?

Many birth defects can’t be prevented, but there are some ways to lower the risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Women who plan to become pregnant should start taking folic acid supplements before conception. These supplements should also be taken throughout the pregnancy. Folic acid can help prevent defects of the spine and brain. Prenatal vitamins are also recommended during pregnancy.

Women should avoid alcohol, drugs, and tobacco during and after pregnancy. They should also use caution when taking certain medications. Some medications that are normally safe can cause serious birth defects when taken by a pregnant woman. Make sure to tell your doctor about any medications you may be taking, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements.

This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.