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Drug Birth Defect Risks May Scare Pregnant Women Away From Necessary Meds: Study

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Pregnant women fear that many drugs to be more harmful than beneficial during pregnancy, and shy away from necessary treatments to avoid the risk that side effects may impact their unborn child’s health, according to the findings of a new study. 

Researchers from the U.K. published a study late last month in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy, which looked at pregnant women’s preferences toward medication during pregnancy. According to the findings, while women may have reason to be cautious, they also may be avoiding medications that are necessary to treat health conditions that could harm them or their unborn child.

The study surveyed pregnant women and mothers who gave birth within a year in the U.K., collecting data on medication use and their beliefs.

The findings indicate that nearly three out of ten women avoided using some medications during pregnancy. Only 65.4% of women with urinary tract infections (UTIs) took medication during pregnancy for the condition, according to the study, and just 1.1% used medication to treat sleeping problems.

“For heartburn and UTIs, women who did not treat the condition viewed medicines in general as being overused, more harmful and less beneficial, than those who treated the condition,” the study found. “Women’s beliefs about medications impact on treatment of specific conditions in pregnancy such as heartburn and UTIs. Healthcare professionals should explore patient’s beliefs regarding medication at the first maternity care visit to promote appropriate medication use in pregnancy.”

The study comes as some health experts have raised concerns that fears over drug side effects may be persuading women to avoid treatment for serious conditions. However, other experts warn that far too few drugs are being tested to make sure they are safe for pregnant women to take.

A recent report by the investigative journalists at ProPublica found that concerns over the risks associated with exposing unborn children to new medications means that 95% of clinical drug trials exclude pregnant women. However, an estimated 90% of women use some prescription drug during pregnancy, potentially exposing children to risks that were never examined or studied.

ProPublica points to the recent concerns about a link between the anti-nausea drug Zofran and birth defects to highlight how avoiding studies that examine potential drug pregnancy risks causes many women and doctors to assume medications on the market are safe to take during pregnancy.

Although Zofran is only approved for treatment of nausea and vomiting among chemotherapy and surgery patients, a large portion of the drug sales in recent years have been to pregnant women experiencing morning sickness. However, a number of recent studies have now suggested that exposure to the drug during the first trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of children suffering congenital heart defects, as well as oral cleft problems, such as cleft palate or lip.

But at nearly the same time as the ProPublica report, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued recommendations urging doctors not to shy away from prescribing Zofran off-label for morning sickness, in order to stop it from progressing to a more serious condition, known as hyperemesis gravidarum.

Over the past year, a growing number of families throughout the United States have filed a Zofran birth defect lawsuit against GlaxoSmithKline, alleging that the drug maker placed their desire for profits before consumer safety, withholding information and warnings about the pregnancy risks from consumers and the medical community.

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