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The BBC's Terry Stiastny
"This area hasn't been studied widely until now"
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Professor James Drife, Royal College of Obs and Gyn
"Until we know more these drugs should be avoided"
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Friday, 2 February, 2001, 08:28 GMT
Pregnant women warned off painkillers
NSAIDs may pose a risk to a healthy pregnancy
Commonly prescribed painkillers may increase the risk of miscarriage, researchers have found.

The researchers studied the impact on pregnancy of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen.

Aspirin is also an NSAID, although it was not specifically considered in this study.

It would be better if for the moment women who knew they were pregnant avoided these drugs

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
They found that they did not seem to make birth complications more likely.

However, it did appear that women who took them during pregnancy were more likely to have a miscarriage.

The apparent risk of miscarriage rose as the pregnancy progressed, with most of the cases occurring within seven to 12 weeks of the drug being prescribed.

Researchers in Denmark investigated 1,462 pregnant women who had been given prescriptions for NSAIDs at any time from 30 days before conception to birth.

They also compared 4,268 women who had miscarriages - of whom 63 had taken NSAIDs - with 29,750 women who had live births.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, the researchers, led by Dr Gunnar Lauge Nielsen, of the Odder Hospital, say: "Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in pregnancy is clearly associated with increased risk of miscarriage.

"As these drugs are widely used, even a small increase in the risk of adverse effects may have major implications for public health."

Widely used drugs

As these drugs are widely used, even a small increase in the risk of adverse effects may have major implications for public health

Danish researchers
NSAIDs are widely used to dull muscle strains, aches and fever.

They work by inhibiting prostaglandin, a hormone-like substance that plays a part in signalling pain to the brain.

They differ from steroid painkillers, which treat inflammation by suppressing the immune system.

However, NSAIDs can irritate the stomach lining, and cause ulceration which can lead to bleeding and infections.

Scientists at The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford said last year that NSAIDs were linked to the death of approximately 2,000 people every year in the UK.

The Danish team warns that more studies are needed to confirm the link.

They say that their research does not prove that the use of NSAIDs causes miscarriages.

It may be that women who took the drugs were already suffering from a disorder that would eventually cause them to miscarriage.

Prescriptions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in Denmark are for relatively large doses, equivalent to 400mg or 600mg of ibuprofen.

Over the counter medications available in the UK are for smaller doses.

A spokesperson for The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: "It is important to note that the authors of the paper emphasise that they have not shown that these drugs cause miscarriage, only that they are associated with miscarriage.

"They also point out the need for further study. However, because of this finding, it would be better if for the moment women who knew they were pregnant avoided these drugs, particularly as there are effective alternatives such as paracetemol."

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07 Mar 00 | Health
Painkillers 'kill 2,000 a year'
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