Opioid Birth Defect?

An article was submitted by Rachael Rettner, Senior Writer for Live Science which covers the issue of more babies being born with intestines outside the body.  They are concerned this condition is linked to mom’s opioid usage. The rate of a serious birth defect in the U.S. is on the rise and is believed to be linked to opioid use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at cases of gastroschisis, which is a birth defect in which the intestines are on the outside of the body at birth because of a hole in the abdominal wall. To repair this condition, surgery is necessary. Even though repaired, some infants may still have trouble with digestion, eating and food absorption, according to the CDC. Mothers that are younger than 20 are thought to be at a higher risk than older mothers.

Cases in 20 U.S. states provided information on gastroschisis cases and they found the rate of gastroschisis between 2006-2010 increased by 10% in 2011-2015.  This rate rose from 4.2 cases per 10,000 live births in 2006 to 2010, to 4.5 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011 to 2015. Babies born to mothers in their 20s and 30s had the largest increases. There was also an increase between 1995 and 2012.

The new report hints that there is a link to the opioid epidemic and it was 1.6 times higher in counties with high rates of the prescription opioid use compared with the counties with low prescription opioid rates. There is only an association and has not been proven that opioid use causes gastroschisis.

Dr. Saima Aftab, medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami said this rise in occurrences of gastroschisis is concerning. She was not involved in the study. She indicated that they have also noticed an increase of cases in their hospital’s fetal program in the last six months.

The condition can cause swelling, twisting and damage to the infant’s intestines before birth and may take weeks for the bowels to start functioning, even after surgery.  These infants may be in the neonatal intensive care unit for months.

They believe that having a better understanding of all possible effects of opioid use during pregnancy can help to provide evidence-based information for health care providers and to women about the potential risks to the developing fetus.

Dr Fredda Branyon