Background: In a variety of animal species, hyperthermia in pregnancy has been recognized as teratogenic. Hyperthermia interferes with protein synthesis via heat-shock proteins, which can entail membrane disruption, cell death, vascular disruption, and placental infarction. This can induce severe fetal malformations or death. Fever during pregnancy, especially during embryogenesis, has also been associated with congenital malformations in human offspring. The purpose of this large cohort study of clinically recognized pregnancies was to investigate whether fever during first trimester was associated with an increased risk of congenital malformations in the offspring.
Methods: The Danish National Birth Cohort is a population-based cohort of 100,418 pregnant women and their offspring recruited in 1996 to 2002. Information on fever during pregnancy was collected prospectively by means of two telephone interviews. The study population comprised the 77,344 pregnancies enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort where self-reported information on fever during first trimester of pregnancy was available. Pregnancy outcomes were identified through linkage with the National Patient Registry. Congenital malformations within the first three and a half years of life were categorized according to EUROCAT's classification criteria. Logistic regression models were used to estimate the associations between fever in first trimester and overall congenital malformations and congenital malformations by subgroups.
Results: Eight thousand three hundred twenty-one women reported fever during first trimester (10.8%) and 2876 infants were diagnosed with a congenital malformation (3.7%). Fever during first trimester did not affect the risk of overall fetal congenital malformation (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.88-1.12). The subgroup analyses indicated slightly higher risk of congenital anomalies in the eye, ear, face and neck (OR 1.29, 95% CI 0.78-2.12) and in the genitals (OR 1.17, 95% CI 0.79-1.12), whereas lower risk of malformations in the nervous system (OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.21-1.08), the respiratory system (OR 0.56, 95% CI 0.23-1.29) and in the urinary subgroup (OR 0.58, 95% CI 0.35-0.99) was suggested, the latter constituting the only statistically significant finding.
Conclusions: Overall, this study did not show any association between maternal fever in pregnancy and risk of congenital anomalies.
Keywords: Congenital anomalies; Congenital malformations; Fever; Hyperthermia; Pregnancy.