Warning: Popular Pain and Anti-Anxiety Drug Linked to Birth Defects

The anti-anxiety and nerve pain prescription drug Lyrica increases the risk of birth defects, according to a new study.
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A popular prescription drug taken for anxiety and nerve pain has now been linked to an increased risk of birth defects.

A new report in the journal Neurology is cautioning pregnant women against taking Lyrica, otherwise known as pregabalin. The drug is approved by the FDA for treating nerve pain associated with conditions like fibromyalgia and diabetes, but is also prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication.

The study at the Swiss Teratogen Information Service showed women who take Lyrica during pregnancy have a higher risk of having a baby with birth defects; that risk is three-fold if the drug is taken during the first trimester. In animal studies, researchers also found a higher rate of skeletal and neural tube defects among those exposed to pregabalin, according to Time.com.

It's worth noting that on the Lyrica website, it does state that anyone who is pregnant, or planning to become pregnant, or to father a child should discuss with their doctor whether taking the medication is right for them. But as senior study author Dr. Thierry Buclin points out, a lot of pregnancies are not planned, meaning women could be exposing their fetuses to pregabalin unintentionally. As many as 77 percent of the women involved in this study were taking Lyrica before finding out they were pregnant. That's alarming!

Dr. Buclin says more studies are needed to understand the exact association between Lyrica and birth defects; this is especially true since he admits patients taking this medication are also more likely to be taking other prescription drugs because Lyrica is recommended for diabetes sufferers and other patients with painful conditions. Interestingly, Lyrica-takers are also more likely to smoke, which we know causes birth defects.

And it's important to point out that the risk of a baby developing birth defects from a mother taking Lyrica is still very small. The bottom line: Discuss any and all medications you are taking with your doctor if you are of child-bearing age.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.

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