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Health & Pregnancy

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Taking Medication While Pregnant

Safe or Sorry?

Teratogens: The Tests of Time continued...

Experts also suggest that pregnant women stick to medicines that have weathered the test of time and avoid those for which there isn't as much data collected, such as some allergy medications recently introduced on the market. Commonly used antihistamines like chlorpheniramine, for instance, haven't been associated with a higher risk of birth defects.

"The Claritins, the Allegras -- the billion-dollar blockbuster drugs you see on TV -- we just don't know much about them. They may be safe during pregnancy; they may not," says Michael Zinaman, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at Loyola Medical Center in Chicago who counsels patients on drugs to avoid during pregnancy.

Setting the Record Straight

In the 12 years that Filkins headed up the Pregnancy Safety Hotline in Pittsburgh, she was struck by the misinformation and needless fear reflected in many calls. One of the most common was from women who got pregnant while on birth control pills and worried that their babies would be born with VATER association, a series of limb and digestive defects.

"With the doses used today, it's not a very large concern, yet there are so many women who are frightened, and even terminated their pregnancies, because of older reports in the medical literature," Filkins says.

Another common confusion among pregnant women is exposure to X-rays. "There's still much hysteria out there, even though they can be lifesaving and the exposures from diagnostic X-rays rarely approach the 5 rad range at which we begin to have some concern," Filkins says. The risks really aren't suspect until 10 or 20 rads, she says.

Just as many medications may be safer than you think, some popular remedies also may be more dangerous to use during pregnancy than people think, says Filkins. For instance, popular megadose vitamins, which contain high doses of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin, should be avoided, she says.

"There are people who feel that if a little bit of vitamins is good, more is better, but many women may not realize that very high doses of vitamin A found in the popular megadose vitamins could produce harmful effects," Filkins says. Pregnant women should avoid taking more than 5,000 international units (IU) of vitamin A daily, the amount contained in prenatal vitamins. Potential risks may occur at 25,000 IU or more.

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