Early pregnancy azathioprine use and pregnancy outcomes

Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2009 Jul;85(7):647-54. doi: 10.1002/bdra.20583.


Background: Azathioprine (AZA) is used during pregnancy by women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), other autoimmune disorders, malignancy, and organ transplantation. Previous studies have demonstrated potential risks.

Methods: The Swedish Medical Birth Register was used to identify 476 women who reported the use of AZA in early pregnancy. The effect of AZA exposure on pregnancy outcomes was studied after adjustment for maternal characteristics that could act as confounders.

Results: The most common indication for AZA use was IBD. The rate of congenital malformations was 6.2% in the AZA group and 4.7% among all infants born (adjusted OR: 1.41, 95% CI: 0.98-2.04). An association between early pregnancy AZA exposure and ventricular/atrial septal defects was found (adjusted OR: 3.18, 95% CI: 1.45-6.04). Exposed infants were also more likely to be preterm, to weigh <2500 gm, and to be small for gestational age compared to all infants born. This effect remained for preterm birth and low birth weight when infants of women with IBD but without AZA exposure were used as a comparison group. A trend toward an increased risk of congenital malformations was found among infants of women with IBD using AZA compared to women with IBD not using AZA (adjusted OR: 1.42, 95% CI: 0.93-2.18).

Conclusions: Infants exposed to AZA in early pregnancy may be at a moderately increased risk of congenital malformations, specifically ventricular/atrial septal defects. There is also an increased risk of growth restriction and preterm delivery. These associations may be confounded by the severity of maternal illness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / epidemiology
  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / metabolism
  • Adult
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects*
  • Azathioprine / adverse effects*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / drug therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology*
  • Registries
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Azathioprine