Low amounts of corticosteroids not linked to birth defects

Many women use prescription topical corticosteroid cream for skin conditions like rashes and adult acne, but are afraid to do so when pregnant even if the condition persists or gets worse. New research, however, confirmed that the use of these creams in small to moderate amounts doesn't affect baby development or lead to birth defects, according to a study published in the September 2013 online issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Previously, doctors and pregnant women alike believed that the use of topical corticosteroids may be linked with birth defects such as cleft palate or complications like premature birth, among other things. This research, lead by Dr. Ching-Chi Chi of the dermatology department of Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Chiayi, Taiwan, confirmed that when used in small amounts - as would be required for most skin conditions for which the drug is prescribed - corticosteroids don't cause fetal harm or defect.

The study followed approximately 9,900 women in the U.K. and used data from 1989 to 2006. Of the women, about 2,700 used the steroid cream, whereas about 7,200 didn't. Those who used the cream experienced low birth weight at a rate of 4.7 percent, whereas those who didn't use the cream experienced low birth weight at a rate of 4.8 percent. In total, the rate of low birth weight for the study was below 1 percent, with no significant difference between the women who used the cream and those who did not.

Dr. Heather Lipkind, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., told Reuters Health that, "This is not new information, however this article is reassuring to women who are using some topical corticosteroids."

Potent creams showed a different trend
What was new information, however, is that the use of large amounts of these steroid creams was connected with low birth weight, a link which, according to Chi, had never been made directly in the past.

The difference was not only in the potency level of the cream, but in how much of it was used during the complete gestation period. Of the group of women studied that used 100 - 200 grams of the drugs over the course of their entire pregnancy, no differences were cited. However, of the group that used 300 grams or more, the increase of low birth rates shot up sevenfold.

The most potent creams observed were clobetasol propionate, betamethasone dipropionate and fluocinonide, and are typically prescribed to treat severe inflammation, itching or psoriasis, reported the news source.

If you're currently using corticosteroids, you can breathe easier knowing that low amounts of the creams won't adversely affect your baby's development. If you're worried about your current prescription, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives.

Does this research make you feel better about using corticosteroid cream during pregnancy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section!