Taking lithium during pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects, according to a new study.
The study, by researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is the largest study ever to examine exposure to lithium in early pregnancy, according to Science Daily.
It found that fetuses exposed to lithium during the first trimester of pregnancy had an elevated risk of major congenital malformations. While the risk remains low, the study found that 7.4 percent of babies exposed to lithium experienced such birth defects compared with 4.3 percent of babies not exposed to the drug.
In addition, the risk of neonatal hospital readmission was nearly double for exposed babies (27.5 percent versus 14.3 percent).
Malformations could include spina bifida, heart conditions, and issues affecting the genitals and urethra, The Independent reported.
Lithium can be effective in treating bipolar disorder.
"Women should be informed on malformation risk in first-trimester exposed infants, but also about very high relapse risks for mental illness both during pregnancy and during the postpartum period," Professor Veerle Bergink of the Icahn School of Medicine said, according to The Independent.
The study found that lithium was not associated with a greater risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia. It examined about 22,000 pregnancies in Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Last year, a study found that the risks of heart malformation among babies exposed to lithium during the first trimester were lower than previously thought, Reuters reported.
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