A potentially deadly birth defect in which a baby’s abdomen doesn’t develop properly and his intestines poke outside the body may be tied to the mother’s opioid use during pregnancy, according to an analysis published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The defect, called gastroschisis, occurs early in pregnancy. Researchers don’t know what it is about opioids that may cause this defect, just that there is “a higher prevalence (of the defect) in areas where opioid prescription rates were high,” the report said.
Gastroschisis is more often seen in teen mothers and mothers who drink and smoke. But the CDC analysis showed that the largest increase in cases of the defect were occurring in older mothers. Previous studies have also shown an association between opioid use just before pregnancy through the first trimester. The analysis also found that the rate of gastroschisis was 1.6 percent higher in countries where opioid prescribing was higher.
Is it just a coincidence? Maybe not, considering that the prevalence of this serious birth defect is rising in step with opioid use. Typically, less than 2,000 babies are born with gastroschisis. But the number has risen substantially in the past two decades in every race and age group.
Babies born with gastroschisis require immediate surgery to push intestines and, in some cases, the liver or stomach back into their bodies. Many infants are left with problems digesting breast milk and food, and have trouble absorbing nutrients which can hamper development. For some, the disease can result in death or life-long problems.