Neural tube defects in relation to use of folic acid antagonists during pregnancy

Am J Epidemiol. 2001 May 15;153(10):961-8. doi: 10.1093/aje/153.10.961.


Periconceptional folic acid supplementation reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs). To determine whether periconceptional exposure to folic acid antagonists (FAAs) might therefore increase the risk of NTDs, the authors examined data from an ongoing case-control study of birth defects (1979-1998) in the United States and Canada. They compared data on 1,242 infants with NTDs (spina bifida, anencephaly, and encephalocele) with data from a control group of 6,660 infants with malformations not related to vitamin supplementation. Mothers were interviewed within 6 months of delivery about demographic, reproductive, medical, and behavioral factors and about medication use. The adjusted odds ratios of NTDs related to exposure to FAAs (including carbamazepine, phenobarbital, phenytoin, primidone, sulfasalazine, triamterene, and trimethoprim) during the first or second months after the last menstrual period, compared with no use in either month, were 2.8 (95% confidence interval: 1.7, 4.6) for FAAs as a group, 4.8 (95% confidence interval: 1.5, 16.1) for trimethoprim (based on five exposed cases), and 6.9 (95% confidence interval: 1.9, 25.7) for carbamazepine (six exposed cases). These results are adjusted for region, interview year, periconceptional folic acid supplementation, maternal age, weight, education, and infections early in pregnancy. These findings suggest that a number of FAAs may increase NTD risk, and they provide estimates of risk for selected drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Folic Acid Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced*
  • Neural Tube Defects / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Risk Factors


  • Folic Acid Antagonists