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Sedative may cause birth defects, brain damage.

Sedative May Cause Birth Defects, Brain Damage

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN: There is further evidence that benzodiazepines -- a class of sedatives including Valium -- can cause birth defects such as facial abnormalities and mental retardation, according to a team of Swedish researchers. Liv Laegreid, M.D., from the department of pediatrics at Gothenburg University, and colleagues found similar facial deformities and central nervous system dysfunction in eight children whose mothers had been regular users of the benzodiazepines diazepam and oxazepam. The average birth weight was below average for Sweden. The children tended to have "a low nasal bridge ... [a] short, upturned nose; slightly malformed or low-set ears;[a receding jaw]; [a] flat upper lip; and full lips." Two had cleft palates and two had microcephaly [abnormally small brains].

One of the eight infants died at 11 weeks, possibly of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is believed to result from a respiratory malfunction. The researchers reported that "in six of the surviving children, various degrees of mental retardation were found [mainly as a result of breathing difficulty severe enough to require resuscitation], and only one child was of normal intelligence. Hyperactivity and attention deficits were common, and among the older children, developmental tests showed severely disturbed visual perception."

The researchers also noted muscle weakness and serious motor problems in the children, ranging from spasticity, and poor hand function and hand-eye coordination in the younger children, to fine motor incoordination and tremor in the older children. Looking at other risk factors for the birth defects, the researchers noted that none of the women had abused alcohol or taken street drugs during pregnancy, although four smoked tobacco. None had serious complications during labor or delivery. Benzodiazepine use, determined as part of routine blood testing, appeared to be the common risk factor, according to the researchers.

Studies have shown that benzodiazepines cause metabolic changes that disrupt embryologic development, including that of the central nervous system, the researchers said. Also, one type, diazepam, can pass easily across the placenta, is difficult for newborns to metabolize, and is harder to clear from the brain than from other tissues. (The Journal of Pediatrics, 1:89.)
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Title Annotation:benzodiazepines
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1989
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