More Babies Are Being Born with Intestines Outside the Body. Is the Condition Linked to Mom’s Opioid Use?

Rates of a serious birth defect are on the rise in the United States, and a new report suggests the condition may be linked to opioid use.

The report, published Jan. 17 by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looks at cases of gastroschisis, a birth defect in which a baby is born with his or her intestines outside the body, due to a hole in the abdominal wall. Surgery is required to place the intestines back in the body and to repair the hole, but even after this treatment, infants may have problems with digestion, eating and food absorption, according to the CDC. The cause of the condition is usually unknown, but mothers younger than 20 are thought to be at higher risk than older mothers.

The new report analyzed information on gastroschisis cases in 20 U.S. states and found that the rate of gastroschisis increased 10 percent from 2006 to 2010, to 2011 to 2015. Specifically, the report found that the rate of gastroschisis rose from 4.2 cases per 10,000 live births in 2006 to 2010, to 4.5 cases per 10,000 live births in 2011 to 2015. The largest increases were seen in babies born to mothers in their 20s and 30s. [7 Baby Myths Debunked]

The new report follows an earlier study that found that the rate of gastroschisis also increased between 1995 and 2012.

The reason for the increase is not known, but the new report hints at a link to the opioid epidemic. The researchers found that the prevalence of gastroschisis was 1.6 times higher in counties with high rates of prescription opioid use, compared with counties with low prescription opioid rates.

Still, the researchers noted that the study only found an association, and cannot prove that opioid use causes gastroschisis. The study examined opioid use and gastroschisis rates only at a population level, and did not have information on whether women who had babies with gastroschisis were exposed to opioids.

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