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Is It Safe to Use Analgesics in Pregnancy?

By Rebecca Mecomber
Updated Feb 11, 2024
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In most cases, physicians affirm that most analgesics are safe to take during pregnancy. Certain cautions and conditions apply, however. All analgesics in pregnancy affect the unborn child, so some drugs should be avoided completely, while other analgesics are acceptable only during certain periods in the child's growth. To determine if a particular analgesic is safe for a certain pregnant patient, medical professionals consider many factors, including the patient's health, existing medical conditions, fetal development, possible analgesic interactions with other medications, and stress level.

When a patient experiences pain, the body releases cortisol and other stress hormones that can harm the developing baby, inhibiting blood flow to the placenta or causing premature labor. Analgesics reduce pain, and in turn reduce stress. Medical professionals often consider the patient's pain tolerance and stress levels with the possible, associated risks of analgesics in pregnancy. When homeopathic and other natural pain-relieving techniques are not effective, physicians allow infrequent analgesic dosages for their pregnant patients.

Analgesics are divided into two categories, non-opioid, over-the-counter and opioid, or narcotic, prescription analgesics. Non-opioid medications include aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen. Opioids are more powerful pain relievers and include such drugs as codeine, oxycodone, morphine, hydrocodone and meperidine. These drugs relieve pain by disrupting the physiological processes of pain sensory reception in some form. Some analgesics are therefore safer than others.

Of the non-opioid drugs, acetaminophen is generally regarded to be the safest, as the drug has no serious side effects and does not interfere with production of the hormone prostaglandin. Low doses of aspirin are considered safe, and some studies show that aspirin may prevent pre-eclampsia, a serious condition that causes high blood pressure in pregnant women. Ibuprofen and naproxen interfere with prostaglandin formation, and studies are inconclusive as to the risks associated with their use. Nearly all physicians agree that pregnant women should abstain from all analgesics in the last trimester as these drugs may cause hemorrhaging, labor problems or miscarriage.

Opioid drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl, have been shown to reduce pain with few side effects. Medical professionals still warn against long-term or frequent use of these analgesics in pregnancy, however. The side effects of analgesics in pregnant women is relatively unknown and physicians usually administer opioid after other analgesics have proven ineffective. Merperidine can cause seizures and tremors in sensitive patients and should be avoided. Babies born to mothers on high doses of opioid analgesics in pregnancy have suffered withdrawal symptoms after birth.

While most medical professionals allow various uses of analgesics for their pregnant patients, these professionals do emphasize caution and a highly controlled drug regimen. Of all the analgesics, acetaminophen is regarded the safest, but pregnant women should avoid all analgesic use in the final trimester of pregnancy. Analgesics can interact with other prescription medicines or a woman's existing condition, so a pregnant woman should always consult with a physician before taking analgesics during her term.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Sep 05, 2014

When one is considering taking medication during pregnancy, it's a good idea to just call the doctor first and find out. That's what I always did. It's also possible to find information online about which category a drug belongs to. Drugs in category A and B are generally considered safe during pregnancy. Category A is better than B. Category A means that the drug showed no evidence of risk to the fetus in human studies.

Category B is a little complicated. It either means that a risk to the fetus wasn't found in animal studies or that a risk was found in animal studies but not in human studies.

Drugs belonging to all other categories are not safe to use during pregnancy.

By fify — On Sep 04, 2014

@serenesurface-- Acetaminophen is safe for pregnant women. The general rule of thumb about the use of medications during pregnancy is that they should be avoided unless they're absolutely necessary. And when used, the lowest effective dose should be preferred and overdose must be avoided.

It sounds like you need a pain reliever, so follow the instructions on the acetaminophen, and use only what you need. If the headache continues, you should speak to your doctor instead of relying on acetaminophen for relief. The less medications used during pregnancy, the better it is for the child. Of course, if your doctor directs you to take something, that's a different issue.

By serenesurface — On Sep 03, 2014

I'm six months pregnant and have been suffering from a persistent headache since the past two days. Is it okay for me to take acetaminophen then?

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