A study has linked the use of Celebrex and other NSAID painkillers to several serious, life-threatening birth defects: spina bifida, clubfoot, cleft palate, cleft lip, amniotic band syndrome, and two serious eye defects that cause permanent blindness.
UPDATE: Study Links Celebrex and Increased Risk of Death After Stroke
November 7, 2014 — Neurology has published a study adding growing evidence that painkillers in the COX-2 inhibitor class, such as Celebrex, may increase a patients risk of death in the 30 days following a stroke. Click here to read more.
Celebrex (rofecoxib) is a COX-2 selective Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug, or NSAID for short. Other drugs in this class include Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Bextra (valdecoxib). These selective NSAIDs are also related to non-selective NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen and naproxen.
Celebrex is primarily an arthritis medication, used to reduce pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness caused by osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis. These arthritic conditions are caused when the tissue surrounding a joint becomes inflamed, or breaks down. Celebrex is also used by some women to treat pain during their menstrual periods, and by some people to reduce the number of abnormal polyps in their colon.
If you are taking Celebrex and you are pregnant, are thinking of becoming pregnant, or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about the possible risks to your child. Celebrex has been linked to serious problems for babies developing in the womb, especially when the medication is taken during the last few months of pregnancy.
Celebrex and Pregnancy
In December 2011, a research study concluded that NSAIDs medications, such as Celebrex, may increase a pregnant woman’s risk of having a baby with the following types of birth defects:
- Spina Bifida: NSAID use during pregnancy was associated with a 60% increased risk of this birth defect. Though spina bifida may be mild, producing no symptoms or disabilities, it is often associated with some level of paralysis. Disability is caused by an abnormal opening at the base of the skull in the neural tube, which normally protects the spinal cord. When a baby born with an open spina bifida birth defect, the spinal cord is damaged by the amniotic fluid in the womb, and the baby usually has irreparable nerve damage that can cause physical disability.
- Clubfoot: This birth defect occurs when the tendons and ligaments in the foot (or both feet) are abnormally short, causing the foot to twist inward and/or upside down. Contrary to popular belief, it is not caused by the way the baby is positioned in the womb. When a child is born with this birth defect, he or she will need corrective treatment to have a normally positioned foot by the time he or she is ready to walk. Surgery may be an option. Gradually stretching and banding or casting the foot in position may be another option, because babies have very flexible tendons and ligaments.
- Amniotic Band Syndrome: This pregnancy complication may be three times more likely to happen when a pregnant woman took an NSAID. It is a serious condition that occurs when parts of the amniotic sac separate from the uterus, forming bands that become entangled around a developing baby. It can cause amputations of fingers, limbs, or death to the baby if it becomes seriously entangled.
- Birth Defects of the Eye: The researchers found that NSAIDs increased the incidence of anophthalmia and microphthalmia by a three-fold rate. These birth defects cause a baby to be born with no eyes, or with eyes that are abnormally small and blind.
- Cleft Lip and/or Cleft Palate: These birth defects were 30-80% more likely when a pregnant woman took an NSAID during pregnancy. Oral clefts occur when the upper lip and/or the roof of the mouth fails to fuse together, and instead remains split into a left and right side. Clefts may be minor notches and require no treatment, or they may be severely disfiguring, and seriously impair feeding, sucking, swallowing, or breathing. Babies born with serious clefts often cannot get all the nutrition they need from breastfeeding alone. Corrective surgery is the preferred treatment.
When the researchers found evidence that links NSAIDs to these birth defects, they drew from a sample of 15,000 women who had babies with birth defects. They compared information about medications these women took to information on 5,500 women whose babies were born without birth defects.
The researchers found that although there was a slightly increased risk of having a baby with a birth defect, the risk was still very small. Even a three-fold increase in the rate of a rare birth defect translates to very few cases numerically. Still, the researchers recommended that women who are pregnant talk to their doctor about all medications they may be thinking about taking — prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements, and dietary supplements. These can all have serious consequences for your unborn child.