UTHealth launches helpline on dangerous substances for pregnant women

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Hope Northrup, M.D.

Hope Northrup, M.D.

HOUSTON – (Sept. 19, 2011) – A new toll-free helpline developed to help pregnant women avoid medications and other substances that can cause birth defects has been launched by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The free helpline for health care professionals and pregnant women, 1-855-884-7248, connects to bilingual counselors who can answer questions about substances that might harm a developing fetus. It is called the Texas Teratogen Information on Pregnancy Service (Texas TIPS). Teratogens are chemicals and environmental factors that can cause birth defects.

Those potentially harmful substances include alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, as well as certain medications such as lithium for depression and bi-polar disease; lisinopril for high blood pressure; and isotretinoin, also known as Accutane for acne and Retin-A. Fetuses can also be affected by maternal infections such as the rubella virus (German measles), syphilis and the herpes virus.

“We are extremely excited to have the privilege of serving women who are or might be pregnant by providing a helpline service for questions regarding exposures during pregnancy,” said Hope Northrup, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Medical Genetics in the Department of Pediatrics at the UTHealth Medical School. “Pregnancy is such an important and vulnerable time in a woman's life. We want to be here to provide support and be a resource for any woman or health care professional who has questions or concerns regarding potentially harmful exposures.”

Birth defects are the leading cause of death among Texas infants with 21 percent of infant deaths due to birth defects in 2008. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, more than 17,000 babies in Texas are born with one or more major structural birth defects. Two-thirds of birth defects are caused by unknown factors, likely environmental or maternal exposures.

With two-thirds of pregnant women taking prescription medications during pregnancy, there is significant confusion and misinformation about which medications should be avoided and which are known to have no adverse effects, according to the state health department. While not all birth defects are preventable, there is the potential to decrease the occurrence of birth defects by 6 to 10 percent with appropriate counseling and intervention before and during pregnancy.

The helpline is part of a $125,000 grant awarded to Northrup from the Texas Department of State Health Services. For more information, visit www.uth.tmc.edu/TexasTIPS.

Deborah Mann Lake
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030