Pregnant women who take painkillers are more likely to have complications, a study finds.
Researchers from the University of Aberdeen found that there were higher rates of preterm birth and stillbirth in women taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Preterm birth was about 50 percent more likely in women who took one of the five common pain relievers at some point during their pregnancy.
And the study, which looked at more than 150,000 pregnancies over three decades, found that the risk of stillbirth was 33 percent higher.
Up to eight in ten expectant mothers take painkillers to relieve pregnancy symptoms, such as fever and joint pain.
But there is conflicting advice to be followed, with some considered safe and some not.
The NHS says paracetamol is the ‘first choice’ pain reliever for pregnant women, but warns against taking high doses of aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
Researchers from Aberdeen University argued that their findings suggest that current guidelines need an “urgent” update.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that there were higher rates of preterm birth, stillbirth and neonatal death in those taking over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
Up to eight in 10 expectant mothers take painkillers to relieve pregnancy symptoms, but there is conflicting advice about which medications to take. The NHS says paracetamol (left) is the ‘first choice’ painkiller for pregnant women, but warns against taking high doses of aspirin and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (right)
The study, one of the largest of its kind, surveyed more than 151,141 pregnancies between 1985 and 2015.
The team studied the medical records of women who had taken acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT ADVICE ON PAIN RELIEF DURING PREGNANCY?
Paracetamol is recommended as the first choice pain reliever for pregnant women.
The NHS says it has been taken by many pregnant women with no harmful effects on the mother or baby.
Low-dose aspirin can be prescribed during pregnancy to prevent a condition called preeclampsia and is considered safe to take during pregnancy.
But high-dose aspirin is not recommended for pain relief during pregnancy as it can affect the baby’s circulation, especially if taken for a long time after 30 weeks.
If acetaminophen does not control the pain, pregnant women are advised to consult a doctor before taking aspirin.
While there’s no strong evidence that high-dose aspirin is unsafe to take during the first 6 months of pregnancy (up to 30 weeks), other pain relievers may be more appropriate and potentially less harmful to your baby, according to the Health Service.
Ibuprofen isn’t usually recommended during pregnancy unless prescribed by a doctor, especially if you’re over 30 weeks pregnant, the NHS says.
Ibuprofen can affect a baby’s circulation and kidneys, and doctors believe there may be a link between ibuprofen in early pregnancy and miscarriage.
Paracetamol is currently considered safe to use during pregnancy.
But high-dose aspirin is not recommended for pain relief as it can affect the baby’s circulation, especially after 30 weeks.
And NSAIDs, all of which are the other three, are not recommended for expectant mothers because they are known to affect the circulation and kidneys of babies.
The findings, published in the scientific journal BMJ Open, show that a total of three in 10 women (29 percent) received over-the-counter pain medication during pregnancy.
But the figure was twice as high for pregnancies between 2008 and 2015, suggesting that use is “growing rapidly,” the researchers said.
Mothers who took at least one of the five pain medications were more likely to have complications. This included the risk of their baby having a low birth rate that was 28 percent higher.
The risk of neural tube defects — related to the brain and spine — was 64 percent higher in mothers taking the drugs, while hypospadias, a birth defect that affects the penis, was 27 percent more likely.
Neonatal mortality — when a baby dies within the first four weeks — was 50 percent higher, the results showed.
The researchers warned that acetaminophen in combination with other NSAIDs is the riskiest mix.
They did not suggest why the drugs harmed unborn babies, noting that the mechanism should be discovered in future studies.
Aikaterini Zafeiri, a PHD researcher at the university and lead author of the study, said expectant mothers should always seek medical advice before taking over-the-counter medicines.
She said: “In light of the research findings, easy access to non-prescription painkillers, coupled with the availability of misinformation and correct information over the Internet, raises safety concerns.
This is especially true when misinformed or partially informed decisions about self-medication are made during pregnancy without medical advice.
It should be emphasized that acetaminophen in combination with NSAIDs is associated with a higher risk and pregnant women should always consult their doctor or midwife before taking any over-the-counter medications.
‘We argue for a strong reinforcement of the official advice for pregnant women.’