Pregnant Women Who Take Macrolide Antibiotics Have Increased Risk of Birth Defects: Study

THURSDAY, Feb. 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- A slightly increased risk of birth defects was found among women who took macrolide antibiotics early in pregnancy, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed data from 104,605 children who were born in the U.K. between 1990 and 2016 and whose mothers were prescribed either macrolides or penicillin during pregnancy, CNN reported.

The rate of major birth defects among women who took macrolides during the first three months of pregnancy was 28 per 1,000 births, compared with 18 per 1,000 births among those who took penicillin.

Specifically, the risk of heart defects was higher in women who took macrolides, but they did not have a higher risk of neurodevelopmental birth defects than those who took penicillin, CNN reported.

There was no increased risk of birth defects among women who took macrolides before pregnancy, according to the study published Feb. 19 in the journal BMJ.

Macrolides -- which include erythromycin, clarithromycin and azithromycin -- are often prescribed for patients who are allergic to penicillin. They are among the most widely used antibiotics in Western countries, the researchers noted.

Based on the findings, pregnant women and their doctors should consider using alternatives to macrolides, depending on the type of infection, said study co-author Ruth Gilbert, a professor at University College London, CNN reported.

But pregnant women shouldn't avoid all antibiotics, Gilbert warned.

"If you've got a bacterial infection, it's really important to take antibiotics because infection itself can be really damaging to the unborn baby," Gilbert said.

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