Researchers have recently revealed that there is an elevated risk of significant congenital malformations in fetuses after exposure to lithium in the first trimester. This is according to the largest study ever to explore the risk of birth defects in babies that have been exposed to lithium.
Lithium is often prescribed for the treatment of bipolar disorder, a mood disorder characterized by episodes of mania followed by depression. Bipolar disorder affects approximately two percent of the population throughout the world, which translates to millions of sufferers. Although lithium is frequently prescribed, bipolar disorder is more commonly treated with anti-psychotic drugs in the United States.
In the study, almost one-and-a-half times as many babies exposed to lithium during that first trimester developed major malformations as compared to the unexposed group – or 7.4 percent compared to 4.3 percent. Although the increased birth defects risk exists, there was no noted connection to delivery complications or other delivery outcomes.
Women with bipolar disorder need to be aware of the malformation risks; but they also need to know that there is a very high risk of relapse during pregnancy and during the postpartum period. However, the effectiveness of lithium in reducing relapse in the perinatal period is well-documented. Therefore, many experts recommend that lithium be continued during pregnancy in a lower dose during the first trimester or restarted after the first trimester or postpartum.
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