What Medicines Are Pregnant Women Taking?

May 9, 2011

An increasing number of women are prescribed medications while they are pregnant, and unfortunately, far too often, too little is known about the safety of the medicines during pregnancy. A new article in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looks at what medicines pregnant women are taking, and how that has changed over time, with a goal of showing the need for further research on the risks of medication use during pregnancy.

Researchers used data on women and their children from the Slone Epidemiology Center Birth Defects Study and the CDC’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study. For these studies, mothers of children with and without birth defects reported what prescription and over-the-counter medicines they remembered taking while pregnant. They excluded vitamins, blood, oxygen, and topical and IV medicines.

Among the findings:

  • In 2008, 93.9% of pregnant women took at least one medicine; 82.3% used at least one medicine during their first trimester.
  • The average number of medicines used at any time during pregnancy increased from 2.5 medicines in 1976-1978 to 4.2 in 2006-2008.
  • The percentage of women taking 4 or more medicines during pregnancy increased from 23.3% in the early years to 50.1% in the most recent years.
  • Antidepressant use increased the most, with less than 1% women taking any antidepressant during pregnancy through 1988-1990, climbing to 7.5% of women in the most recent years.
  • The top 20 mostly commonly used medicines (in the first trimester) were identified, an include examples of antibiotics, the flu vaccine, allergy and asthma drugs, thyroid drugs, antidepressants, hormones, and a diabetes drug.

The researchers note that of course women’s recall of medication use may be imperfect. However, they conclude that the most commonly used medicines should have their risks and safety in pregnancy evaluated, and ongoing monitoring should be done to better inform women and their providers of potential risks of the medicines they use.

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