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Ecstasy and pregnancy

A recent study has suggested that pregnant women who take ecstasy may be at greater risk of having babies with birth defects such as congenital heart disease and other abnormalities.

Researchers at the National Teratology Information Service in Newcastle (1) studied 136 babies whose mothers took ecstasy while pregnant. Seventy four said they took only ecstasy but 62 had used ecstasy and other illegal drugs.

Eleven of the births ended in miscarriage, which is no more than average. Forty eight of the women chose to have abortions. Of the live births, twelve had congenital abnormalities, such as a club foot, while two had congenital heart disease. This is around four times the national average.

The majority of the women were under thirty years old and had used ecstasy in the first three months of pregnancy, when they might not have been aware that they were pregnant.

These results appear alarming, and any woman who believes that she may have taken ecstasy in the early stages of pregnancy should inform her doctor, but in common with much of the research into the effects of ecstasy, a few factors should be borne in mind.

This study is based on a very small sample; the researchers themselves say that "this small case series has insufficient statistical power to confirm a causal relationship with any particular congenital anomoly".

It is always difficult to determine cause and effect in research into the effects of drugs. Some of the women in the study had quite complex drug histories and without hair tests it is impossible to know exactly what substances have been taken and over over what period. Depending on the context in which the drugs were used other factors might be involved, such as nutrition and sleep.

However, while the results of the study are in no way conclusive it certainly reinforces two pieces of advice which all health agencies would endorse:

  • if you are pregnant then it is unwise to take any substance about whose effects on the foetus little is known, such as ecstasy and other illegal drugs

  • ecstasy can help to break down inhibitions. Many people do not feel sexual on e, but if you do choose to have sex then be aware of the risks

    (1) The National Teratology Information Service is funded by the Department of health to give doctors advice on the care of pregnant women who have taken drugs