Pregnant women who take ibuprofen in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy risk harming the future fertility of their unborn daughters, according to a study published in Human Reproduction.
The team found that exposure to ibuprofen during the early stages of pregnancy resulted in a large loss of germ cells, the cells that go into making the gametes (the cells that fuse during fertilization) in organisms that reproduce sexually. Analyzing ovarian tissue, they found many of the germ cells either stopped growing or completely died.
Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication used to help treat aches, fever, and migraines. The researchers noted that taking the drug for just a couple of days could still cause serious fertility issues. This is significant because around 30 percent of women have been estimated to use ibuprofen during the first three months of pregnancy.
The study involved 185 fetuses from pregnancy terminations that were 7 to 12 weeks old. The team cultured ovarian tissue in a lab and tested the blood from the umbilical cord of the fetuses to determine whether exposure to ibuprofen caused any harm. This revealed that ibuprofen crosses the placental barrier.
"The concentration that we found in the umbilical cords of fetuses from mothers who ingested 800 mg (four pills of 200 mg) two to four hours before surgery is similar to the concentration that can be found in adult's blood for the same treatment," said Dr Severine Mazaud-Guittot, a researcher at Inserm, France, in a statement.
They found fetal tissue exposed to ibuprofen for seven days had nearly half the number of ovarian germ cells.
“We found there were fewer cells growing and dividing, more cells dying and a dramatic loss of germ cell numbers, regardless of the gestational age of the foetus,” said Dr Mazaud-Guittot. "There were significant effects after seven days of exposure to 10 μM of ibuprofen, and we saw cell death as early as after two days of treatment. Five days after withdrawing ibuprofen, these harmful effects of ibuprofen were not fully reversed."
Limitations of the study include the tests being carried out in a laboratory instead of a living woman’s body and the short duration of cultured cells meaning they couldn't study the long-term effects of the fertility of the reproductive function of the daughters.
This isn’t the first time painkillers have been associated with health risks for pregnant women though. A previous study showed that mothers who take acetaminophen risk exposing their children to language development problems at just 30 months old.
Although further study will need to be carried out, the researchers recommend avoiding ibuprofen during those early months.