Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications Linked to Birth Defects

A study by the Mayo News Network suggests that some of the most popular rheumatoid arthritis medications may be linked to a number of medical problems, including miscarriage and birth defects.

RA is a medical condition in which the body’s immune system begins to attack the tissues that surround the joints, causing intense pain, stiffness, swelling, loss of mobility, fatigue, and weakness. Over time, the joints may become destroyed, especially without proper treatment.

People who suffer from RA generally take medications to help ease the symptoms as well to reduce joint damage. Yet, several of the most commonly-prescribed medications have been associated with a heightened risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, miscarriage, and a myriad of birth defects.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that time the drugs are taken during pregnancy has a large impact. For instance, certain rheumatoid arthritis medications have been associated with risks only in third trimester, whereas other medications poses risks at anytime during pregnancy.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications that May Cause Birth Defects

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, be certain to consult with your physician if you’re currently taking RA medication. The following medications have been linked to birth defects:


Leflunomide, also known as Arava, has been associated with a heightened risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, and birth defects. More studies are needed to confirm the findings, but Leflunomide manufacturers warn that women who are pregnant or who have a chance in becoming pregnant should not take the medication.


Methotrexate, also known as Trexall, is one the most popular medications for RA and is commonly prescribed to help pain, inflammation, and muscle weakness. However, taking methotrexate while pregnant may lead to miscarriage during early pregnancy and an increased risk of birth defects in the third trimester.

Biologic Response Modifiers

Biologic response modifiers (BRMs) are a class of drugs that are genetically engineered to help people with RA control joint damage and increase the body’s natural response to diseases and infections. BRMs work by targeting specific cells and proteins that are responsible for causing joint damage and inflammation.

Examples of BRMs used for RA include Actemra, Rituxin, Orencia, and Kineret. Experts suggest that there is not enough research to determine the risks of taking BRMs while pregnant, and until then, it’s recommended to avoid the medications if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant. 


Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, has limited information on the effects of pregnancy and infants. Yet, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), taking corticosteroids while pregnant increases the risk of an infant developing a cleft lip and cleft palate. 

If you are currently on the aforementioned medications, it’s important to use contraception if there is a chance that you can become pregnant. If you’re planning to have a baby, speak with your physician regarding different rheumatoid arthritis medications that are safe during pregnancy.

Sam Uribe

Written By Sam Uribe

Sam Uribe is a researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.