Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are a class of over-the-counter, or OTC, drugs that are used to relieve the aches and pains associated with arthritis, minor injuries, inflammation, menstruation and other issues not requiring a more potent prescription-level painkiller. The NSAIDs family of drugs consists of many popular medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.

While these types of drugs can be very helpful, they can also lead to serious and sometimes debilitating birth defects in children born to mothers who consumed them during pregnancy (especially in the first trimester). If your child suffered a birth defect because your doctor didn't warn you about the risks of taking NSAIDs during pregnancy, please call Stern Law, PLLC (800)462-5772 for a free evaluation of your case.

What types of birth defects are caused by NSAIDs?

Recent studies have shown that NSAIDs have been associated with several types of birth defects, such as:

  • Cleft lips/palates – These types of birth defects interfere with the development of a child’s mouth and lips. If a woman takes NSAIDs during her first trimester of pregnancy, her chances of giving birth to a child with these types of birth defects is between 30 and 80 percent (depending upon the amount consumed, frequency of usage, etc.).
  • Spina bifida – This refers to a condition in which a child is born with an exposed spinal cord, which could result in paralysis and other disabling conditions. It is believed that women who consume NSAIDs during their first trimester of pregnancy are 60 percent more likely to give birth to a child with this serious condition.
  • Amniotic band syndrome – This condition occurs when parts of the amniotic sac become entangled with the fetus during pregnancy. The severity of the condition depends upon which parts of the baby become entangled and for how long. For women that take NSAIDs during pregnancy, typically during the first trimester, they are up to three times more likely to deliver a child with this defect.
  • Club foot – A club foot, medically referred to as congenital talipes equinovarus, is a congenital deformity of one or both of a child’s feet. When a baby is born with this condition, the affected foot appears to be rotated inward at the ankle. This condition requires extensive physical therapy and surgical intervention to correct the deformity. Overall, studies have shown that women are three times more likely to have a child affected with a club foot if they consume NSAIDs during their first trimester of pregnancy.
  • Anophthalmia/Microphthalmia – These conditions, respectively, cause a child to be born with no eyes or with eyes that are extremely small, resulting in irreversible blindness. Women who consume NSAIDs during pregnancy have a higher likelihood of giving birth to a child with these debilitating conditions.

Why are children most susceptible to NSAIDs-related birth defects during the first trimester?

Once an egg is fertilized during conception, it takes an average of six to nine days for the fetus to implant to the uterus. Upon implantation, a blood supply will then develop and exist between the mother and her child until the time of delivery. If you are exposed to any type of NSAIDs during pregnancy, it is very easy for the substance to directly harm the unborn child via exposure through the blood supply.

In general, nationwide studies have shown that NSAIDs are capable of affecting a growing fetus as early as ten to fourteen days post-conception. During pregnancy, a child’s organs form during the first trimester, which leaves him or her most vulnerable to birth defects during this crucial stage of development. Since teratogenic substances such as NSAIDs have the potential of interfering with the development and formation of a child’s organs, any exposure resulting in birth defects would then have to take place during the first three months of pregnancy.

However, there are some fetal organ systems that are vulnerable to teratogenic influence through the entire gestational period, such as a child’s central nervous system, or CNS, which includes a child’s brain and spine. Despite the fact that studies suggest that NSAIDs are most harmful during a woman’s first trimester, it is nonetheless crucial to avoid taking these types of drugs during all stages of pregnancy to prevent the risk of birth defects from occurring.

How are NSAIDs-related birth defects diagnosed?

There are a number of ways in which medical professionals can determine whether an unborn child is suffering from birth defects associated with NSAIDs and other teratogens. The specific test or procedure depends upon the nature of the suspected condition:

  • Ultrasound – There are a variety of difficult types of ultrasounds – including specialized or targeted ultrasounds – that are able to produce images of a child in utero and target a suspected issue, such as abnormal fetal development and associated birth defects.
  • Cordocentesis – This highly specialized procedure is also referred to as percutaneous umbilical blood sampling and involves the extraction and testing of blood from the umbilical cord. This test is usually performed after the 18th week of pregnancy and is able to identify certain fetal chromosomal abnormalities.
  • Amniocentesis – This test is administered to a pregnant woman so that amniotic fluid can be tested for fetal abnormalities and conditions.
  • Chorionic villus sampling – This form of prenatal diagnostic testing involves the removal of tissue to from the fetal sac in order to determine the existence of fetal abnormalities.

Can NSAID-related birth defects be prevented?

In general, birth defects associated with the use of NSAIDs during pregnancy can be prevented, as follows:

  • Consult with your medical professional – This includes a doula, midwife, nurse, doctor or pharmacist, who can recommend which over-the-counter and prescription medications are safe to consume during pregnancy, and which ones you should avoid. If you intend on becoming pregnant, it is highly recommended that you consult with your medical practitioner regarding any OTC and prescription drugs that you currently take which could be harmful to an unborn child. Moreover, if your doctor recommends a certain drug or supplement, there is nothing wrong with investigating the safety of the substance before consumption, as doctors can and sometimes do make mistakes. Specifically, you can visit the FDA’s website for more information on teratogenic drugs and pregnancy.
  • Take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day – Also consume foods rich in folate. Folic acid is known to decrease the risk of a birth defects in pregnant women should the supplement be taken throughout her pregnancy and even before conception.
  • Seek regular prenatal care – Regardless of the circumstances, women who seek regular prenatal care during pregnancy are less likely to experience complications. However, should complications arise, regular prenatal monitoring and care can help prevent the serious effects of certain conditions should they remain undiagnosed or untreated throughout a woman’s pregnancy.

If a woman is exposed to NSAIDs during her pregnancy as a result of the wrongdoing or negligence of others, that party can and should be held liable for any loss and injuries to her and/or her child. These birth defects are often preventable, and Stern Law, PLLC can help you pursue the compensation you and your child deserve. Please call (800)462-5772 for a free consultation.