Review Pushes for More Research Into Prescription Drug Use During Pregnancy

Despite the fact that prescription drug use is common during pregnancy, very little is known about potential adverse reactions of the most commonly used prescription drugs to the fetus. Published in the journal Obstetrician & Gynecologist, a review hopes to bring awareness and more research to the issue.

The most commonly used prescription drugs used among pregnant women are used to treat hypertension, asthma, epilepsy and depression. Sutcliffe and his colleagues explored anti-epileptic drugs and antidepressants in their review.

“Many pregnant women use prescription drugs. However, the risk to the fetus remains unknown,” said Alastair Sutcliffe, Reader in Child Health, ULC Institute of Child Health, and co-author of the study.

It is currently estimated that 2% of all births result in congenital malformations. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines state, however, that it is currently impossible to determine what, if any, defects or abnormalities are caused by prescription drug use in pregnant women.

Yet, despite NICE’s guidelines, the reviewers attributed approximately 1% of all malformations to prescription drug use during pregnancy. Using data from the UK Epilepsy and Pregnancy Registar, they determined that the risk of congenital malformations was 3.7% for a woman who had taken only one anti-epileptic drug (AED) during pregnancy. This was compared to a risk of 6% of malformation when two or more AED’s were taken.

Reviewers also examined a different registry, a much larger one, to determine what malformations may be caused by the use of maternal SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) or anti-depressants. Approximately 4% of all women take anti-depressants during pregnancy and another 2.3% take SSRIs.

While no cardiac malformations were found when examining SSRI use in pregnant women, the reviewers did determine that SSRI use can lead to complications like premature birth, feeding problems, endocrine and metabolic disorders, respiratory distress syndrome and regulation disorders, especially if used in late pregnancy.

But even all of this provides very limited information regarding prescription drug use during pregnancy. And until something is proven safe, it may be like playing Russian roulette to take some of these drugs during pregnancy. Yet, another issue compounds that problem – many of these prescriptions are necessary to treat serious conditions. As such, reviewers on the issue state that more research is needed to help determine the effects of prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, clinical trials exclude pregnant women from their studies, unless the prescription is marketed to pregnant women, specifically. This leaves a big gap in knowledge regarding pregnant women and prescription drugs. And since pregnancy can change the chemical composition of the body and how it reacts to prescriptions, it is unknown whether or not they carry risks to the unborn fetus or if the drug is even effective when taken during pregnancy.


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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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