Study: Fever In Early Pregnancy Can Cause Birth Defects

Every expectant mom is concerned about her health during pregnancy. They know that any illness may affect her growing baby. Fever during pregnancy is one such thing pregnant women are scared of. Running a high fever during pregnancy is considered harmful to the development of the baby. Various studies have shown an increased risk for birth defects such as neural tube defects commonly called spina bifida, cleft lip or cleft palate in babies of women who had high temperatures early in pregnancy.

A recent study published in the journal Science Signaling reveals that the fever itself interferes with the development of a baby’s heart and jaw during early pregnancy. Thus, the baby’s risk of developing a congenital heart defect and certain facial deformities, such as cleft lip or cleft palate is associated with a high fever during the first trimester. Let’s get into the details of the study.


The Study

The research focused on neural crest cells, which are known as building blocks for the heart, face, and jaw. It was found that the ion channels of these crest cells are sensitive to temperature. Wondering what are ion channels? They are in charge of the flow of ions in and out of cells. So the researchers went on to find out the impact of temperature change on neural crest cells and thus, in the development of the heart.

Researchers conducted their experiments on chicken embryos. They raised the temperature in two specific ion channels within the neural crest cells of the chicken embryos. These temperature-sensitive ion channels are called TRPV1 and TRPV4. In effect, by manipulating these heat-sensitive channels, researchers created a fever in the embryos. And as an impact of fever in the early stage of their development, the chicken embryos developed facial disfigurements and heart defects.


Significance Of The Study

The study found that there is no need of an underlying infection to damage the embryo. Even a high temperature in enough to cause defects in your growing baby. Thus, hyperthermia or fever can be a major culprit behind serious birth defects. Well, the depth of defects depending on the severity or duration of high temperature still needs to be studied.

Moreover, the study emphasizes the importance of making pregnant women aware about fever during pregnancy. Many of them are hesitant to take medicine for a fever. They are worried about the effect of the medicine on the unborn. Anyone who is not confident about the medicines should talk to their healthcare provider and choose drugs that are thought to be safe for pregnancy. Sometimes, fever may represent some other potentially hidden complication. So, it is a must for pregnant women to see the doctor.


Most birth defects are thought to be genetic in origin. However, genetic mutation is associated with around 15% of birth defects. The rest of them are unexplained. As the research points out the relation with fever and birth defects, some of the defects could be avoided by preventing a fever during pregnancy.

How To Avoid Fever Or High Temperature

Taking a few precautionary measures during pregnancy will help you avoid fever.

  • Keep your hands clean. Keep a hand sanitizer with you and use it whenever necessary.
  • Talk to your doctor about the flu vaccine and get the vaccine if your doctor recommends it.
  • Before using any medicine, talk to your doctor. Some of the medicines may not be good for pregnancy. Aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen are not recommended for a pregnant woman.
  • It is best to avoid hot tubs and saunas for a long time as it elevates your body temperature. Sometimes spending 10 – 15 minutes in a hot tub or sauna may raise your body temperature.