Maternal illness, including fever and medication use as risk factors for neural tube defects

Teratology. 1998 Jan;57(1):1-7. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9926(199801)57:1<1::AID-TERA1>3.0.CO;2-6.


We investigated if selected maternal illnesses or medications used during the periconceptional period increased risk of having neural tube defect (NTD)-affected pregnancies. We used a population-based case-control study of fetuses and liveborn infants with NTDs among 1989-1991 California births. In-person interviews were conducted with mothers of 538 (88% of eligible) NTD cases and 539 (88%) nonmalformed controls, usually within 5 months of delivery. A maternal fever or febrile illness episode in the first trimester was associated with an increased risk for having a NTD-affected pregnancy, odds ratio (OR) = 1.91 (95% confidence interval, 1.35-2.72) for fever and OR = 2.02 (1.20-3.43) for febrile illness. Risk estimates were not substantially altered after adjustment for maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, vitamin use, and body mass index. Other reported illnesses were generally not associated with risks of 1.5 or greater, or were too infrequent to adequately estimate risk. An OR of 1.5 or greater was observed for maternal use of guaifenesin, OR = 2.04 (0.79-5.28), and an OR of 0.5 or less was observed for maternal use of calcium-containing medicines, OR = 0.38 (0.14-1.03). Our findings are consistent with previous reports that suggested elevated NTD risks from maternal fever. We could not discriminate, however, whether the increased risks observed for maternal fever were indicative of a causal relation or due to reporting bias. Our findings suggest that many of the illnesses common to reproductive-aged women and the medications commonly used to treat them during pregnancy, except, perhaps, for those illnesses that are febrile-related, do not appear to substantially contribute to the occurrence of NTDs in the population.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • California
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions*
  • Female
  • Fever* / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects / chemically induced
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / drug therapy
  • Risk Factors


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic