How to Advise Pregnant Patients on Over-the-Counter Medication

Posted January 19, 2016 by Stacy Bolzenius

How to Advise Pregnant Patients on Over-the-Counter Medications

From lower back pain to allergies and colds, there are several reasons for pregnant women to take an over-the-counter medication. When caring for these patients, women’s health experts should provide guidance on which medications are safe to take and which ones to avoid. This is particularly important due to the lack of research on this issue. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that less than 10 percent of FDA-approved medications offer adequate information on risks for pregnant women, such as birth defects.

Safety of OTC Medications

Doctors should emphasize how important it is for pregnant women to check with them before taking any kind of OTC medication. While some of these medications are generally considered safe for pregnant women, they could be risky for women who take them too much or for women with underlying health conditions. Doctors should weigh the benefits vs. the risks of birth defects and other problems associated with certain medications in order to determine whether or not they are safe for pregnant women to take.

Pain Relievers

OTC pain relievers, or analgesics and antipyretics, can provide relief from fever, lower back pain, headaches and other aches and pains during pregnancy, but some should be avoided. Acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, is typically considered safe for most pregnant women to take. However, aspirin, found in Excedrin and Bayer, should not be taken at all during pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects. Other non-steroidal pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are not recommended during the first and third trimesters and should be used with caution in the second trimester.

Less than 10 Percent of FDA-Approved Medications Offer Adequate Information on Risks for Pregnant Women

Cold and Allergy Medications

OTC medications for cold symptoms, coughs, nasal congestion and allergies should be taken with care. Those containing brompheniramine, found in Dimetapp, should be used with caution when taken before 36 weeks and avoided after 36 weeks. OTC medications with chlorpheniramine, found in Advil and Alka-Seltzer Plus allergy and cold medicines, should also be avoided after 36 weeks and taken with caution before 36 weeks. Medications with phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine, found in some Claritin and Sudafed products, should be avoided in the first trimester and used with caution during the second and third trimesters.

Digestive Medications

Some OTC medications to relieve heartburn, diarrhea and other digestive issues that can occur during pregnancy are generally safe. These include loperamide, found in Imodium, and antacids such as calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide. Those that should be avoided include bismuth subsalicylate, found in Pepto-Bismol, as well as castor oil and mineral oil.

Don’t Forget to Study for your Board Review

The OBGYN board review will be here soon, so set aside plenty of time to prepare for it. If you were unable to go to our live conference on the OB/GYN CME board review, you can still get a refresher. Visit Perinatal Resources to browse our online and audio courses.