In recent months, this blog has covered issues related to birth defects, specifically those that fall under the umbrella of neural tube defects (or NTDs) like spina bifida, anencephaly and encephaloceles, some of which are linked to a lack of b-vitamin folic acid or use of prescription drugs like Depakote. These ailments all affect the neural tube in a developing child, the structure that will eventually surround its brain and spinal cord. Typically, a baby with a healthy and robust neural tube will go on to develop a healthy brain and spinal column. But new science has found troubling links between certain fertility drugs and this type of birth defect.
An Australian study (published in The New England Journal of Medicine) taking into account nearly 303,000 pregnant women has just been published, and The New York Times reports that the researchers have found a “small but significant increase in the risk for birth defects in babies conceived with assisted reproductive technologies.” Specifically, the study concludes that there is a “28 percent greater risk for birth defects in babies conceived with fertility treatment, including risks for heart, muscle, urogenital, and gastrointestinal defects and for cerebral palsy.”
The only drug mentioned by name in the Times piece is Clomid (also known as clomiphene, Clomifert, Serophene and clomiphene citrate), which is known to inhibit estrogen receptors in the brain’s hypothalamus. This leads to increased levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, which causes elevated production of ovarian follicles resulting in ovulation. Times reporter Nicholas Bakalar writes, “Using the fertility drug Clomid (clomiphene citrate) at home without any other drugs increased the risk for birth defects,” but he also adds that the number of women using the drug in this sample were too low to draw any significant correlative conclusions with respect to this product.
The writers of the legal blog AboutLawsuits.com note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received several hundred reports of Clomid being linked to birth defects since it was introduced in 1972. Some studies have suggested that the risk of birth defects as much as triples in the presence of Clomid while others find little to no correlation at all. In other words, there is a suspected association, but nothing has been authoritatively proven by science at this time. The medical community awaits further trials to establish whether there is a causative link between Clomid and neural tube defects.
As with any medical issue, you should consult carefully with your doctor before beginning a course of treatment with Clomid or any other fertility drug. This is especially crucial if you have existing liver or thyroid problems, enlarged ovaries or ovarian cysts or adrenal problems as these may cause unwanted and dangerous side effects.
Obviously the last thing a mother wants in a fertility drug is for birth defects to result. If Clomid is found to cause severe problems in developing children, many of these complaints to the FDA will doubtless turn into defective drug lawsuits against the pharmaceutical manufacturer. If you or someone you know has taken Clomid and has had a child with a birth defect like a neural tube disorder, it is important to get in touch with an attorney who can establish for you your legal rights.
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