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How to Know Whether Your Pregnancy Prescriptions Are Safe

by Anthony Johnson | April 9, 2015 12:00 AM
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Doctors have an obligation to inform patients of risks associated with prescriptions, but they can't stay up to date on every research paper and FDA warning. Sometimes, a research study links a drug to serious side effects after it has been on the market for years, or doctors continue prescribing a medication long after the FDA issues a warning about its side effects.

For example, doctors have prescribed a drug originally developed for chemotherapy patients to treat morning sickness during pregnancy. Researchers with The Motherisk Program at The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto recently linked the drug to birth defects such as heart malformations, cleft lip, and cleft palate. Although the FDA issued a warning about these side effects, doctors are still prescribing the drug to expectant mothers.

Your healthcare provider is a partner in your care, but that doesn't mean your doctor is the only source of guidance or knows all the risks associated with your prescriptions. To protect yourself and your child, you must be an active participant in making healthcare decisions. Do your own research, ask questions, and know your options. Here's how:

1. Identify the medication's classification. The FDA classifies every drug as A, B, C, D, or X. Just like movie ratings warn viewers about content, drug categories warn patients about side effects. A category-A drug has had no risks demonstrated in research studies, while a category-X drug has been linked to fetal abnormalities or other serious risks. But keep in mind that research studies take years, so a category-A drug may have risks that researchers haven't yet demonstrated.

2. Ask about potential side effects for you and your baby. This two-fold question reveals a lot. During pregnancy or breastfeeding, any side effects a mother experiences may also affect her child. Because babies have a lower tolerance for pharmaceuticals, these side effects can be more severe.

3. Do independent research. Check resources such as Worst Pills, Best Pills and WebMD to make sure your physician's information is accurate and up to date. Look for FDA warnings — which are issued sooner and more often than recalls — or other medical research and expert opinions.

4. Look into alternative medicines. Many doctors default to pharmaceuticals, but prescription medicine isn't your only option. Research alternatives, such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, or behavioral techniques, and ask your doctor whether any of these treatments could be as effective as prescriptions without the same risk of side effects.

5. Discuss concerns with your physician. Patients sometimes hesitate to ask questions because they don't want to challenge a doctor's expertise, but a good doctor will listen and talk through your concerns. If you uncover red flags during research, bring them up with your physician right away. Don't settle for dismissive answers like "everyone uses this" or "we've used it for years." Expect scientific evidence and clear explanations, and if you're ever in doubt, seek a second opinion.

If you're pregnant or nursing, research could be the difference between having a healthy baby and experiencing serious side effects. You deserve to know the risks and have a say in your treatment. After all, it's your pregnancy and your child's health. So ask questions, do research, get informed, and make a decision that feels right for you and your baby.

Anthony Johnson is the founder and CEO of American Injury Attorney Group, who is committed to raising awareness for people who have been harmed caused by the negligence or fault of another. Prior to becoming an attorney, Anthony worked in web development, Internet marketing, startups, and finance.

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