When you think about the causes of birth defects, you probably think about the obvious: smoking, exposure to radiation or dangerous chemicals, and genetic problems. What you may not realize is that birth defects can be brought about by any number of causes, some known and some unknown. According to some recent research, some women may be at risk of having a baby with birth defects due to high blood pressure.
According to this study, having high blood pressure during the early weeks of pregnancy can increase your risk of certain birth defects.
The study came about because of something called ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors are a drug used to help with high blood pressure. Women have been told for a long time now to avoid these medications during late pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.
Blood pressure, not medication, causing defects
This new study looked at women who had high blood pressure, both those that were taking ACE inhibitors and those that were taking other medications, as well as those that were taking no medications.
All of the women with high blood pressure – regardless of whether it was being treated or how – had a higher risk of having a baby with a number of defects, including:
- Congenital heart defects
- Brain defects
- Spinal cord defects.
The study looked at over 450,000 women over a 13 year period. While the study didn’t prove that the ACE inhibitors posed no risk, what it did do was demonstrate that the high blood pressure itself is a major concern.
Good news for early pregnancy
One of the implications here is that a woman who is on an ACE inhibitor that finds out she’s pregnant may not have harmed her baby. Once she discovers she’s pregnant she can come off the medication, but it’s extremely unlikely that it will have contributed to the risk of birth defects during those early days of pregnancy (before she knows she’s pregnant).
The FDA and most doctors recommend moving off ACE inhibitors once you discover you’re pregnant.
In some ways, of course, it’s all a bit disheartening; high blood pressure isn’t quite as easy to address as simply stopping a given type of medication.
So, what do you think?