Risk of congenital anomalies after exposure to asthma medication in the first trimester of pregnancy - a cohort linkage study

Ester Garne, A Vinkel Hansen, Joan Morris, Sue Jordan, Kari Klungsoyr, Anders Engeland, David Tucker, Dan Thayer, Gareth Davies, Anne-Marie Nybo Andersen, Helen Dolk

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Objective To examine the effect of maternal exposure to asthma medications on the risk of congenital anomalies.Design Meta-analysis of aggregated data from three cohortstudies.Setting Linkage between healthcare databases and EUROCAT congenital anomaly registries.Population 519 242 pregnancies in Norway (2004–2010), Wales (2000–2010) and Funen, Denmark (2000–2010).Methods Exposure defined as having at least one prescription for asthma medications issued (Wales) or dispensed (Norway, Denmark) from 91 days before to 91 days after the pregnancy start date. Odds ratios (ORs) were estimated separately for each register and combined in meta-analyses.Main outcome measures ORs for all congenital anomalies and specific congenital anomalies.Results Overall exposure prevalence was 3.76%. For exposure to asthma medication in general, the adjusted OR (adjOR) for a major congenital anomaly was 1.21 (99% CI 1.09–1.34) after adjustment for maternal age and socioeconomic position. The OR of anal atresia was significantly increased in pregnancies exposedto inhaled corticosteroids (3.40; 99% CI 1.15–10.04). For severe congenital heart defects, an increased OR (1.97; 1.12–3.49) was associated with exposure to combination treatment with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-2-agonists. Associations with renal dysplasia were driven by exposure to short-acting beta-2-agonists (2.37; 1.20–4.67).Conclusion The increased risk of congenital anomalies for women taking asthma medication is small with little confounding by maternal age or socioeconomic status. The study confirmed the association of inhaled corticosteroids with anal atresia found in earlier research and found potential new associations withcombination treatment. The potential new associations should be interpreted with caution due to the large number of comparisons undertaken.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1609-1618
Number of pages10
JournalBJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number10
Early online date12 May 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2016


  • Asthma medications
  • Congenital anomalies
  • First trimester exposure
  • Inhaled beta-2 agonists
  • Inhaled corticosteroids


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