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Anti-Fungal Drug Not Tied to Most Birth Defects: Study

But experts may still avoid prescribing fluconazole for pregnant women since it's still linked to a rare heart defect
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Another expert doesn't think these findings will change clinical practice.

"Ob/Gyns are still going to be reluctant to prescribe this drug," said Dr. Kecia Gaither, director of maternal fetal medicine at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Gaither prefers to use natural methods for treating yeast infections. "One of them is increasing the use of yogurt intake," she said. "There is certain bacteria in yogurt that prevents yeast infections. I have not run into a person who continues to have recurrent yeast infections after that is done."

For the study, Molgaard-Nielsen's team collected data on more than 7,300 women who took fluconazole during their pregnancy, among whom 210 infants were born with birth defects, and compared them to a control group of more than 968,000 unexposed women, among whom more than 25,000 babies were born with birth defects.

In both groups, the risk for having an infant with a birth defect was 0.6 percent, the researchers found.

Moreover, fluconazole wasn't linked to a significantly increased risk for 14 of 15 birth defects to which the drug had been previously linked, they added.

These include craniosynostosis (a defect in the baby's skull), middle ear defects, cleft palate, cleft lip, limb defects, an abnormal number of finger or toes, fused fingers or toes, diaphragmatic hernia, heart defects and shifting of a lung.

There was, however, a significantly increased risk of tetralogy of Fallot, with seven cases (0.10 percent) among women who took fluconazole, compared with 287 cases (0.03 percent) in unexposed women, the researchers found.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, tetralogy of Fallot is a rare, complex birth defect where four different areas of the heart are malformed and the heart cannot pump enough blood or oxygen to the rest of the body. Surgery is usually required shortly after birth, although the long-term outlook for these patients has improved greatly in recent years.

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