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Drugs for hypertension may be dangerous during pregnancy

Readers in Oregon likely know that proper prenatal care can be essential to the future health of an unborn baby. A major component of that care is a doctor's ability to properly diagnose and/or treat problems that may arise during a pregnancy. Yet a new study indicates that a growing number of pregnant women are taking antihypertensive drugs, possibly because their prenatal doctors failed to advise them of the potential risks posed by the drugs.

The study analyzed Medicaid data from more than 1.1 million pregnant women, and found that 4.4% took drugs for high blood pressure, or hypertension, during their pregnancy. The study also found that more women took the medication during their third trimester -- 3.2 percent -- compared to only 1.9% during the first trimester and 1.7% during the second trimester. Researchers speculate that automatic refills may be one reason for the disproportionate numbers.

Hypertension is among the most common medical problems encountered during pregnancy. The study estimates that the condition may occur in about 6 to 8 percent of all pregnancies. Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy may cause maternal and fetal morbidity, and they remain a leading source of maternal mortality.

Yet taking antihypertensive drugs may be dangerous, as very little research exists on which of those medications are safe during pregnancy. The drugs may cause poor growth, kidney problems and even death of the newborn. Fortunately, some prenatal care doctors may be properly advising their patients about the risks, as about half of women who had been taking antihypertensive drugs prior to their pregnancy discontinued their usage during the first or second trimester.

Fortunately, there may be non-drug treatments available. According to the study's authors, antihypertensive therapy for mild-to-moderate hypertension can prevent progression to severe hypertension. However, more data on the comparative effectiveness and safety of different treatment options for hypertension in pregnant women is needed.

For women taking a blood pressure medication who plan on becoming pregnant, they should discuss treatment choices during pregnancy with their doctor.

Source: Forbes, "Antihypertensive Use Among Pregnant Women on the Rise," Larry Husten, Sept. 10, 2012

• Our firm handles situations similar to the one discussed in this post. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Oregon Improper Prenatal Care page.

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