Pregnant WomanAccording to a Universite de Montreal study, more than six percent of pregnant women in Quebec have prescription drugs that may perhaps be detrimental to their fetuses.

Moreover, half these women appear to voluntarily end their pregnancy in fear of congenital malformations. Apparently, this signifies that the abortion rate amongst these women is 11 percent higher as compared to the rest of the population.

“I never expected such results and I was extremely surprised,” says senior author Anick Berard, a professor at the Universite de Montreal’s Faculty of Pharmacy and director of the Research Unit on Medications and Pregnancy of the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center.

Dr. Berard was believed to have examined data from the Quebec Pregnancy Registry on 109,344 women, aged 15 to 45, who were expecting between 1998 and 2002. They found that approximately 6,871 pregnant women seem to have consumed one of eleven prescription drugs that are known to be harmful to fetuses through the first, second or third trimester.

Of those women, nearly 3,229 were noted to have aborted while 6 percent had a miscarriage. In addition, about 8.2 percent appear to have given birth to a child with major congenital malformations. By contrast, the rate of fetal malformations in the general population in the province of Quebec may perhaps have been approximately seven percent.

“If there are 80,000 births in Quebec per year, a one percent difference translates into an additional 800 children born with serious malformations. At the very best, those babies will die. In the worst case, they’ll live with serious physical or psychological health problems their entire lives.” says Berard, who is currently a visiting professor at the Universite Claude Bernard in Lyon, France.

The study authors also examined the use of prescription drugs that are known to be feto-toxic or raise in-utero problems or premature births. They found that nearly 11,400 prescriptions appear to have been used by pregnant women. Supposedly, these prescriptions included dangerous medicines such as isotretinoin for the treatment of acne and rosacea, anxiolytic benzodiazepines for anti-anxiety treatment and antiepileptics to treat epileptic seizure. Moreover, other drugs that were injurious to fetuses for hypertension, anticoagulation and infection seem to have been extensively used.

Berard was surprised to find out that one particular acne treatment appears to be still obtainable on the market in Canada without correct risk management programs. This is because the product is known to increase the risk of malformations by about 30 percent i.e. baseline risk is estimated at 3 percent. Furthermore, it was found that of the 73 pregnant women who used isotretinoin in Quebec, approximately 78 percent seem to have got an abortion.

Dr. Berard claimed that some drugs are believed to be overused, such as benzodiazepine to treat symptoms of anxiety. Also, they should be avoided in order to reduce the chances of fetal malformations. However, other drugs may be essential, such as antiepileptics. In those cases, pregnancy must be carefully planned and medicine use must be at a strict minimum during the first trimester. Also, the expectant mother may perhaps meet with her physician often.

The findings of the study ‘Prescriptions filled during pregnancy for drugs with the potential of fetal harm,’ have been published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.