If older couples are more likely to have children with birth defects, could Viagra cause an increase in infants born with those problems?
We came across a syndicated health column
recently in which a reader posed an interesting question about Viagra: Could Viagra be related to birth defects? Not directly related in the sense that, say, alcohol use or thalidomide during pregnancy could cause birth defects. Sildenafil has been tested extensively and thoroughly vetted by the FDA, and there's no reason to think that the drug, taken by men or women, has that effect.
The issue is more complex and relates to demographics. Women's eggs do have an expiration date - as women age, the chromosomal material in them is more likely to break down. Statistically, children born to mothers aged 40- 54 years have the highest rates of Downs Syndrome
, and in general women over 35 are more likely birth infants with that and other congenital conditions such as heart defects, hypospadias, clubfoot, and diaphragmatic hernia.
Given that Viagra and similar drugs are allowing older couples to have intercourse who might not otherwise, is it possible that erectile dysfunction drugs could be causing an increase in the incidence of birth defects? Older couples might not think to use birth control if the woman is perceived to be past child-bearing age.
It's an intriguing question, but I don't think it can be answered. In theory, it seems plausible, and the numbers are probably there to crunch if you're so inclined. But there are so many variables, and Viagra hasn't been available long enough to get a really solid statistical sample. But actually, the overall number of birth defects between 1999 and 2005 has declined or remained stable most years.
It's true there's been an average increase in the age at which women become mothers. But this has less to do with Viagra and more to do with socio-economic factors. The biggest change is that women are delaying childbirth so they can pursue careers.
Of course, you'd have to limit your data set to developed countries where you can get Viagra and women have the option (or obligation, depending on how you look at it) to pursue careers.
So the short answer is,probably not in any statistically significant way, but there's not enough information.