Medications While You Are Pregnant

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Medications During Pregnancy

Many expectant mothers start the nine months of pregnancy with at least a hope of being serene and problem-free, with a healthy diet, comfortable clothes and shoes, and, ultimately, the perfect baby. Dr. Mary Hebert, associate professor at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy, says, "Although society at large and health care providers have the philosophy that medications should not be used during pregnancy, some women may still need to take medications during pregnancy."

On the average, expectant mothers take three medications during pregnancy, not counting prenatal vitamins, since pre-existing chronic illnesses are fairly common in women of childbearing age. In many cases, treatment for high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, thyroid disease and chronic depression will need to be continued throughout the pregnancy.

"Chronic illness, when it goes untreated or is not treated adequately, is associated with significant risks for the mother and the baby," Hebert says. "For example, untreated low thyroid hormone in the mother can result in a lower IQ in the infant. The mother and the health care provider need to consider the risks of the underlying disease as well as the possible effects of any medication."

Health problems can also develop during pregnancy, even though the mother did not have symptoms before she became pregnant.

"There are a large number of changes in the body's physiology during pregnancy," Hebert says. "It affects how the heart beats and how the vascular system and the pancreas work. These changes may stress the system enough that some women will develop problems they didn't have before pregnancy. High blood pressure and gestational diabetes are problems that can appear for the first time during pregnancy and may require treatment to make sure that the mother and baby stay safe."

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Gestational diabetes usually disappears after the baby's delivery but it is an indicator of an increased risk for development of type 2 diabetes in the mother later in life.

"During pregnancy, the woman's body may not be able to keep her blood sugar under control. High blood sugar during the latter stages of pregnancy can lead to significant problems, including very big babies," Hebert says. "These babies may suffer shoulder injuries during vaginal delivery, or require delivery by Caesarean section."

Women who develop high blood pressure during pregnancy are at increased risk of chronic high blood pressure after pregnancy. With diligent follow-up, treatment, and lifestyle changes, women who suffer from pregnancy-induced high blood pressure or gestational diabetes may be able to delay the later onset of hypertension and diabetes, as well as their complications, such as kidney damage, blindness, stroke and heart disease.

Hebert adds that, while many women may want to avoid taking any medications during pregnancy, those with chronic diseases need to weigh the risks and benefits of treatment.

"The question for mothers-to-be should not just be, 'Is the medication I'm on going to cause birth defects?' but should also include, 'What are the risks of the chronic illness if they are not treated?' Avoiding medications completely can have a very bad effect on the life-long health of your child."

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