New French Study Finds That Women Who Take Certain HIV Drugs Are More Likely to Have Children With Birth Defects
The study looked at 13,124 babies born at Hospital Louis-Mourier in Colombes, France between 1994 and 2010. Researchers found that there was a "significant" link between exposure to efavirenz (also known as Sustiva) during the first trimester of pregnancy and neurological defects. In fact, the risk was three times higher. Birth defects observed included a cerebral cyst, hydrocephaly (abnormal accumulation of fluid in the brain), pachygyria (a malformation of the cerebral hemisphere that causes developmental delays and seizures), and an agenesis of the corpus callosum (a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, which allows for communication between the left and right hemisphere of the brain).
Results from other HIV-related drugs were not any more promising. Pregnant women who took zidovudine (more commonly known as AZT) were 2.5 times more likely to have babies with congenital heart defects, and the overall birth defect risk increased 1.2 fold. Babies who had been exposed to didanosine or lamivudine during the first trimester were 1.93 times and 1.96 times more likely to have birth defects of the head and neck.
While these findings were cause for serious concerns, experts in the field did not think it would change current practice. One noted that efavirenz-related birth defects were overall very rare, and if a woman on efavirenz wanted to get pregnant, the physician would switch her to a different form of treatment -- presumably after discussing it with the patient first.
Thanks to modern medication, women with HIV can get pregnant and have healthy children when the condition might have posed a serious risk even 20 years ago. However, as with any health condition, you need to take necessary precautions, especially concerning prescription medication. It is absolutely essential that your physician go over the possible risks involved with taking medication during pregnancy. If he or she does not, and you have a child born with one of the above birth defects, you have the option of suing your physician for medical malpractice. You would argue that your physician had a duty to inform you, the patient, yet breached that duty by withholding necessary information. Had you known that information, you might have sought a different medication or tried to wean yourself off of medication altogether, if possible. Instead, you were exposed to a drug like efavirenz during your first trimester, and as a result, your child was born with a birth defect. Should you file a suit, you would most likely seek "damages" or a monetary award, for pain and suffering, medical bills, loss of future income, and more.