Background: Azathioprine (AZP) interferes with nucleic acid synthesis and is teratogenic in animals. In view of the paucity of information on the use of AZP during pregnancy we investigated this subject in a prospective, controlled, multicenter study. Our objective was too determine whether exposure to AZP during pregnancy increases the risk for major malformations and to determine the effect on pregnancy outcome.
Methods: Pregnant women on AZP who contacted one of seven teratogen information services were compared to a cohort of pregnant women who contacted two of the seven teratogen information services and took nonteratogenic treatments during their pregnancy.
Results: Follow-up was completed on 189 women in the AZP group and compared to 230 women in the control group. The rate of major malformations did not differ between groups with six neonates in each; the AZP rate was 3.5% and the control group rate was 3.0% (p = .775; OR 1.17; CI: 0.37, 3.69). The mean birth weight and gestational age were lower in the AZP group (2,995 g vs. 3,252 g [p = .001, difference of mean: 257, 95% CI: 106.3, 408.1] and 37.8 weeks vs. 39.1 weeks [p = .001, difference of mean: 1.3, 95% CI: .5, 2.0], respectively). The AZP group had more cases of prematurity (21.4% vs. 5.2% [p < .001; OR 4.0; 95% CI: 2.0, 8.06]) and low birth weight (23% vs. 6.0% [p < .001; OR 3.81; 95% CI: 2.0, 7.2]).
Conclusions: These results suggest that AZP (50-100 mg/day) does not triple the rate of birth defects; however, it is associated with lower birth weight, gestational age, and prematurity. Larger studies are needed to confirm these observations.