From the Journals

Modafinil use in pregnancy tied to congenital malformations



Modafinil exposure during pregnancy was associated with an approximately tripled risk of congenital malformations in a large Danish registry-based study.

Modafinil (Provigil) is commonly prescribed to address daytime sleepiness in narcolepsy and multiple sclerosis. An interim postmarketing safety analysis showed increased rates of major malformation in modafinil-exposed pregnancies, so the manufacturer issued an alert advising health care professionals of this safety signal in June 2019, wrote Per Damkier, MD, PhD, corresponding author of a JAMA research letter reporting the Danish study results. The postmarketing study had shown a major malformation rate of about 15% in modafinil-exposed pregnancies, much higher than the 3% background rate.

Dr. Damkier and Anne Broe, MD, PhD, both of the department of clinical biochemistry and pharmacology at Odense (Denmark) University Hospital, compared outcomes for pregnant women who were prescribed modafinil at any point during the first trimester of pregnancy with those who were prescribed an active comparator, methylphenidate, as well as with those who had neither exposure. Methylphenidate is not associated with congenital malformations and is used for indications similar to modafinil.

Looking at all pregnancies for whom complete records existed in Danish health registries between 2004 and 2017, the investigators found 49 modafinil-exposed pregnancies, 963 methylphenidate-exposed pregnancies, and 828,644 pregnancies with neither exposure.

Six major congenital malformations occurred in the modafinil-exposed group for an absolute risk of 12%. Major malformations occurred in 43 (4.5%) of the methylphenidate-exposed group and 32,466 (3.9%) of the unexposed group.

Using the extensive data available in public registries, the authors were able to perform logistic regression to adjust for concomitant use of other psychotropic medication; comorbidities such as diabetes and hypertension; and demographic and anthropometric measures such as maternal age, smoking status, and body mass index.

After this statistical adjustment, the researchers found that modafinil exposure during the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with an odds ratio of 3.4 (95% confidence interval, 1.2-9.7) for major congenital malformation, compared with first-trimester methylphenidate exposure. Compared with the unexposed cohort, modafinil-exposed pregnancies had an adjusted odds ratio of 2.7 (95% CI, 1.1-6.9) for major congenital malformation.

A total of 13 (27%) women who took modafinil had multiple sclerosis, but the authors excluded women who’d received a prescription for the multiple sclerosis drug teriflunomide (Aubagio), a known teratogen. Sleep disorders were reported for 39% of modafinil users, compared with 4.5% of methylphenidate users. Rates of psychoactive drug use were 41% for the modafinil group and 30% for the methylphenidate group.

The authors acknowledged the possibility of residual confounders affecting their results, and of the statistical problems with the very small sample size of modafinil-exposed pregnancies. Also, actual medication use – rather than prescription redemption – wasn’t captured in the study.

The study was partially funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Damkier P, Broe A. JAMA. 2020;323(4):374-6.

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