Researchers have advised women to reach out to their doctors if a fever occurs during the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Such fevers, according to researchers from Duke University, can cause heart and facial defects.
The researchers studied zebrafish and chicken embryos subjected to fever-like conditions to observe the impact on a developing fetus and found that the embryos developed craniofacial irregularities and heart defects.
Eric Benner, assistant professor of paediatrics at Duke University, said the type of defect depends on whether the fever occurs during heart development or head and face development.
“We have known since the early 1980s that fevers are associated with birth defects, but how that was happening has been a complete mystery,” he said.
“It is challenging to gather data from mothers on the circumstances, severity or duration of a fever from many months before
“I hope moving forward, we can educate more women about fever as a risk factor for birth defects and let them know they shouldn’t just tough it out if they develop a fever.
“They should ask their doctor before getting pregnant whether they may benefit from taking a fever-reducer such as acetaminophen in the event they develop a fever.”
Benner said their results suggest a portion of congenital birth defects could be prevented by lowering the mother’s fever with the judicious use of acetaminophen during the first trimester.
He said: “My hope is that right now, as women are planning to become pregnant and their doctors advise them to start taking prenatal vitamins and folic acid, their doctor also informs them if they get a fever, they should not hesitate to call and consider taking a fever reducer, specifically acetaminophen (Tylenol), which has been studied extensively and determined to be safe during the first trimester.
“While doctors advise most women to avoid any drug during pregnancy, there may be benefits to taking acetaminophen to reduce fever. Women should discuss all risks and benefits with their doctors.”
Benner warned that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin also reduce fevers, but some NSAIDs are not safe to use during the latter stages of pregnancy.
He said there is also an ongoing debate over whether sustained use of acetaminophen is safe during pregnancy to manage ongoing conditions such as arthritis.
“However, its judicious use for an acute problem such as fever is considered safe. These findings suggest we can reduce the risk of birth defects that otherwise could lead to serious health complications requiring surgery,” he said.
The findings by Duke University researchers, demonstrated in animal embryos, was published on October 10 in the Science Signaling journal.
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