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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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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug 28 (HealthDay News) -- Although some reports have shown that high doses of the anti-fungal drug fluconazole (Diflucan) may raise the risk of birth defects, a new Danish review finds that more commonly prescribed lower doses of the medicine do not carry the same dangers.

Yet, in spite of this reassurance, experts may remain reluctant to prescribe the drug for expectant mothers who have yeast infections, since it is still linked to an increased risk of a rare congenital heart problem called tetralogy of Fallot.

"Many pregnant women suffer from a yeast infection called vaginal candidiasis, or vaginal thrush, which is the most common clinical indication for use of oral fluconazole," explained lead researcher Ditte Molgaard-Nielsen, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

First-line treatment for vaginal candidiasis during pregnancy is vaginal preparations of topical anti-fungal drugs, she noted.

"However, in cases when topical treatment is ineffective this study provides comprehensive safety information, and may help inform clinical decisions when treatment with oral fluconazole is considered in pregnancy," Molgaard-Nielsen said.

Specifically, the researchers looked at 15 birth defects linked to fluconazole and found it was not associated with an increased risk for 14 of them, she said.

"However, we did see an increase in the risk of tetralogy of Fallot, an uncommon congenital heart defect, but the number of exposed cases were few and this association should be confirmed in other studies before anything can be concluded with any certainty," Molgaard-Nielsen added.

The report was published Aug. 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Scott Berns, senior vice president and deputy medical officer for the March of Dimes, said that "when pregnant it is important to avoid taking any medicines unnecessarily."

"I would chose the topical drug to treat a yeast infection. That is my first line," he said. "If I had to use oral fluconazole, this study is reassuring that most of the time the baby is going to be fine. But, there is that small chance of tetralogy of Fallot. So, why take that chance?"

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