Epidemiologic analysis of prenatal exposure to cough medicines containing dextromethorphan: no evidence of human teratogenicity

Teratology. 2001 Jan;63(1):38-41. doi: 10.1002/1096-9926(200101)63:1<38::AID-TERA1006>3.0.CO;2-6.


Background: In a recent experimental study on chick embryos, Andaloro et al. (1998, Pediatr. Res. 43:1-7) observed a relationship between neural crest/neural tube defects (NTDs) and prenatal exposure to dextromethorphan. These authors made an extrapolation of their results to the human embryo, indicating that this drug could produce NTDs in humans. Rosenquist (1999, Teratology 60:58-60) based on the results of the epidemiologic study performed by Ferencz et al. (1997, Perspect. Pediatr. Cardiol. 5:50-162), concluded that dextromethorphan could cause congenital heart defects in humans. Because this drug is an over-the-counter drug, the suggestion of those authors has led to great controversy and public concern about the possible teratogenic effect of this drug on the human embryo.

Methods: We present the results of a case-control study by using logistic regression analyses on the effect of prenatal exposure to drugs containing dextromethorphan only, or in combination with other drugs, on human development. We mostly analyzed dextromethorphan. The study was designed in part as hypothesis confirmation for NTDs and congenital heart defects and, in part, as hypotheses generation by testing the association with many other congenital defects.

Results: The results do not show a relation between the occurrence of NTDs and heart defects or other defects with exposure to drugs containing dextromethorphan.

Conclusions: The usual use of dextromethorphan in cough medications during pregnancy does not increase the risk for congenital defects.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antitussive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Dextromethorphan / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Reference Values
  • Regression Analysis
  • Spain / epidemiology


  • Antitussive Agents
  • Dextromethorphan