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Medication Risk For Pregnancies

For years, doctors have been telling women to avoid certain prescription drugs while pregnant. One dramatic example from the past is thalidomide, which was used to treat morning sickness but caused severe birth defects in thousands of children.

Now, there's concern that certain over-the-counter medications may also pose risks. The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall explained that many people assume over-the-counter drugs are safe for everyone to use, including pregnant women. But, she says, that's a false assumption.

Many over-the-counter medications have been tested on the general population, but not on pregnant women. As a result, there isn't a lot of information on how these drugs can impact a pregnant woman or the fetus. Marshall says women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should always talk to their doctor before taking any medications, whether prescribed or over-the-counter.

The Food and Drug Administration is asking drug companies to develop pregnancy registries to monitor women who are taking a particular drug and to look out for side effects. The FDA is also trying to get better labeling on over-the-counter drugs, so women will be able to tell which drugs are safe and which are not.

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Marshall gave some insight on some common medications that pregnant women may be using.

Pain Relievers
Three of the most common types of pain relievers are aspirin, ibuprofen (found in Advil, Motrin and other medications) and acetominophen (found in Tylenol, and many other medications, including over-the-counter cold and sinus remedies). Acetominophen is generally thought to be safe in pregnancy. But, a recent study found that taking aspirin or ibuprofen early in pregnancy, or even around the time of conception, may increase the risk of miscarriage by 80 percent. There has also been some data that suggest these drugs may harm the developing fetus. Marshall says pregnant women should avoid those drugs.

Decongestants
The most common oral decongestant on the market is pseudoephedrine (found in Sudafed and many over-the-counter cold and sinus remedies). There has been a link made between pseudoephedrine use in pregnancy and a rare birth defect called gastroschisis, where the baby's abdominal wall doesn't form normally. Most physicians recommend that pregnant women avoid pseudoephedrine, especially during the first trimester.

Antihistamines
The most common over-the-counter antihistamine is diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl and many other allergy remedies). A number of studies have shown that diphenhydramine is generally safe for use in pregnancy. But again, Marshall recommends pregnant women to talk to their doctor before taking it.

Some pregnant women use over-the-counter herbal supplements. Marshall says that's a wrong move because something marketed as being herbal or natural doesn't automatically mean it's safe. And many herbal remedies are not subjected to a strict approval process, so you don't always know what you're getting and what they might do to you. It is especially true for pregnant women who also have to worry about the safety of their fetus. Marshall tells pregnant women to not take any herbal supplements, whether ginseng, echinacea or whatever, without talking to their doctor first.

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