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Study: Over-the-counter pain meds linked to increased risks in pregnancy

Taking over-the-counter pain medications during pregnancy may increase the risk for complications, a new study has found. Photo by DigitalMarketingAgency/Pixabay
Taking over-the-counter pain medications during pregnancy may increase the risk for complications, a new study has found. Photo by DigitalMarketingAgency/Pixabay

June 30 (UPI) -- Women who use over-the-counter painkillers during pregnancy are 1.5-times more likely to have a baby with health problems compared with mothers who do not take these drugs, though the risk is relatively low, according to a study presented Wednesday.

Those who use common analgesics such as aspirin and ibuprofen also are at higher risk for preterm delivery, stillbirth or neonatal death, data presented during the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting showed.

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The risk is not significant enough to warrant recommending against their use for all pregnant women, but expectant mothers with other risk factors for these outcomes may want to consider limiting their intake of these drugs, the researchers said.

"Expectant mothers should not be concerned to use over-the-counter painkillers in moderation when they are in need," study co-author Aikaterini Zafeiri told UPI in an email.

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Although "we found risks associated with painkillers, the absolute risks for the rarer conditions were small, so benefits should be weighed against these risks and women should seek medical advice when necessary," said Zafeiri, a researcher and doctoral student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Given that headaches, fever, low back pain and other pain-related problems are common during pregnancy, up to 80% of women globally use non-prescription drugs before giving birth, according to the researchers.

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For this study, Zafeiri and her colleagues analyzed data on more than 151,000 pregnancies between 1985 and 2015 from the Aberdeen Maternity and Neonatal Databank, a database of pregnant women and delivery outcomes in northeastern Scotland.

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The medical records were checked for patient use of the pain drugs paracetamol and aspirin, as well as the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, diclofenac, naproxen and ibuprofen.

Nearly 30% of the women in the study used over-the-counter pain relievers during pregnancy, a figure that reached 60% during the last seven years of the 30-year study period, the data showed.

When asked specifically at their first antenatal clinic visit, 84% of the women who took the drugs reported using them during the first 12 weeks after conception.

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Women who used at least one of these drugs had a 64% higher risk of having a baby with birth defects affecting the brain, spine or spinal cord.

In addition, they were 50% more likely to have a preterm delivery and 56% more likely to have their baby die soon after birth, the data showed.

They also had a 28% higher risk of having a low-birth-weight baby and up to 30% more likely to experience other complications affecting their newborns, according to the researchers.

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"At the moment, these compounds should be used within reason and only in case of need," Zafeiri said.

"In the meantime, research will continue and hopefully collectively lead to more clear guidance on the safety of using these drugs during pregnancy," she said.

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