More pregnant women taking high blood pressure drugs, yet safety unclear

September 10, 2012

Nearly 5 percent of pregnant women are prescribed drugs to treat high blood pressure, including some drugs that aren't considered safe for mothers or their babies, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension.

Use of high blood pressure drugs during pregnancy is becoming increasingly common, said Brian T. Bateman, M.D., lead author and Assistant Professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass.

"While we know high blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs in about 6 percent to 8 percent of all pregnancies, we know little about how women and their doctors treat the condition," he said.

Researchers studied a database of more than 1 million Medicaid patients, of whom 48,453 (4.4 percent) filled prescriptions for high blood pressure drugs during their pregnancies.

They found: Limited information is available about which antihypertensive drugs are safest and most effective for treating high blood pressure during pregnancy, Bateman said. In general, methyldopa and labetalol are the recommended antihypertensives for use during pregnancy. More research on which antihypertensives to prescribe during pregnancy and how to use them safely is urgently needed, he said.

"We know from reports that a number of harmful effects can occur from using ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers, especially during the second and third trimester," Bateman said. "These drugs can cause poor growth, kidney problems and even death of the newborn. If women are taking one of these blood pressure medications and they become pregnant or plan to do so, they and their doctors should discuss treatment choices during pregnancy."
-end-
Co-authors are Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, M.D., Dr.P.H.; Krista F. Huybrechts, M.S., Ph.D.; Kristin Palmsten, M.S.; Helen Mogun, M.S.; Jeffrey L. Ecker, M.D. and Michael A. Fischer, M.D., M.S. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study.

For more information, visit American Heart Association about high blood pressure and pregnancy.

For the latest heart and stroke news, follow us on twitter: @HeartNews.

For the updates and new science from the Hypertension journal, follow @HyperAHA.

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

American Heart Association

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