In a review of more than 3 million pregnancies, University of Florida researchers found 1 in 16 women were exposed to harmful teratogenic drugs — medications that can cause pregnancy loss, birth defects and other health problems for the unborn child.
The study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology highlights the need for women and their providers to carefully examine medications taken during pregnancy.
“If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or sexually active you must understand the risks involved with taking teratogenic drugs,” said Almut Winterstein, Ph.D., R.Ph., an author of the study and distinguished professor and chair of the department of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy in the UF College of Pharmacy, part of UF Health.
“Talk with your provider about your medications and review drug labels to ensure the medications you are taking are not putting your unborn child at risk,” added Winterstein, who also directs the UF Center for Drug Evaluation and Safety.
A teratogen is a substance that interferes with the normal development of a fetus. Hundreds of such drugs have been identified, including medications to treat seizures, migraines, obesity, acne, hypertension, bipolar disease and cancer.
UF researchers investigated more than 200 teratogenic drugs and evaluated their exposure among 3.4 million pregnancies identified in a national private insurance database from 2006 to 2017. Prenatal exposure was defined by the mother taking at least one teratogenic drug during pregnancy.
Using teratology drug databases, the medications were separated into two classes based upon their known teratogenic effect. About 140 drugs were known to have definite teratogenic effects, and another 65 were identified as having potential teratogenic effects. The proportion of pregnancies with exposure to definite teratogens decreased slightly over the 12-year study period from 1.9% to 1.2%, while exposures for potential teratogens increased from 3.4% to 5.3%.