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Research Suggests Morning Sickness Drug Won’t Harm Fetus

June 11, 2009

Researchers in Israel have shown that the anti-nausea drug metoclopramide does no obvious harm to the fetus in pregnant women. This discovery may lead more doctors to prescribe the drug for those women suffering from morning sickness, The Associated Press reported.

As of now, there are no approved drugs in the U.S. for morning sickness, which many women experience during the first three months of pregnancy “” even all day for some. Up to 80 percent of pregnant women have at least one episode of nausea and vomiting during their early months of pregnancy.

When simple strategies such as eating crackers and frequent, small meals don’t help, doctors prescribe medicines approved for other types of nausea that are thought to be safe in pregnancy.

A team led by Ilan Matok of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev compared the outcomes of 3,458 women who took metoclopramide and 78,245 who did not. They found no difference in birth defects or other problems in newborns of women whether or not they took the drug, sold as Reglan and in generic form.

Dr. Keith Eddleman, director of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, said he believes many women will be comforted by the results of the study.

“Most women are reluctant to take anti-nausea medicine just because of the stories they’ve heard and the perception that taking something in the first trimester can cause harm,” he said.

The researchers found that the drug produced no change in the risk of giving birth to a low-weight baby or to a child with a low Apgar score, a widely used measure of the health of a child immediately after birth.

The authors wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine: “Until now, the assumption that the use of metoclopramide in pregnancy is not associated with congenital malformations has been based on studies with small samples, totaling 800 pregnancies.”

With around 4 million births in the U.S. alone, there still have been no large, well-designed studies on the safety of medicines in treating morning sickness, mostly due to fears of harming a fetus and triggering lawsuits.

The first morning sickness drug, Thalidomide, which was used in Europe and Canada in the 1960s, resulted in missing or shortened limbs for many babies.

Another drug called Bendectin was pulled from the market in 1983 after widely publicized lawsuits alleged it caused limb deformities””despite many studies and reviews by medical authorities that suggested otherwise.

Metoclopramide works by emptying the stomach at a faster rate and reducing heartburn. However, minor side effects can include sedation, insomnia, depression and anxiety.

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