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Expecting Mothers Be Warned, Popular Pain Medication May Cause Birth Defects

May 19, 2016 10:12 PM EDT
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Pregabalin or Lyrica
A new study shows that women who were exposed to pregabalin or Lyrica are three times more likely to give birth to a child with birth defects.
(Photo : Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Pregabalin, or most commonly known for its brand name Lyrica, is a popular medication used to relieve pain caused by damage nerve endings and rashes due to diabetes or shingles. It is also approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for fibromyalgia, epilepsy and neuropathic pain. Oftentimes, health care providers prescribed pregabalin off-label for psychiatric disorders such as generalized anxiety.

This common pain medication comes with several side effects, which include but not limited to tiredness, vomiting, weight gain, shortness of breath and chest pain. A new study suggests that pregabalin might also cause birth defects.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, revealed that women who were exposed to pregabalin during the first trimester of their pregnancy were three times more likely to give birth to a child with birth defects.

For the study, researchers analyzed the data of 164 women who took pregabalin during pregnancy. They also looked into 656 women who did not take the anti-seizure drugs as their control. Of the women taking pregabalin, 115 were taking it to treat neuropathic pain, 39 were taking it for psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis, five were taking it for epilepsy and one was taking it for restless leg syndrome. A total of 77 percent of the women of the women exposed to pregabalin started using it before their pregnancy. All women stopped taking pregagablin at the average of six weeks into their pregnancy.

The researchers found out that six percent of the women exposed to pregabalin in the study gave birth to a child with major birth defects, while only two percent of women who were not exposed in the pain medication developed a birth defect.

Major birth defects caused by pregabalin include heart defects and structural problems with the central nervous system (CNS) or other organs.

Even with their findings, researchers were reluctant in drawing their conclusion due to the small size of the study. Also, many of the women in the study were taking other kind of drug that might affect the onset of birth defects.

In a statement, researchers still advised health care providers to only consider prescribing pregabalin to women in a child-bearing age after making sure that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks and after counseling them about using effective birth control.

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