When one drug affects 2 patients: a review of medication for the management of nonlabor-related pain, sedation, infection, and hypertension in the hospitalized pregnant patient

Marilyn N Bulloch, Dana G Carroll
Journal of Pharmacy Practice 2012, 25 (3): 352-67
One of the most difficult challenges health care providers encounter is drug selection for pregnant patients. Drug selection can be complex as efficacy and maternal side effects must be weighed against potential risk to the embryo or fetus. Verification of an individual drug's fetal safety is limited as most evidence is deduced from epidemiologic, prospective cohort, or case-control studies. Medication selection for the pregnant inpatient is a particularly complex task as the illnesses and conditions that require hospitalization mandate different medications, and the risk versus benefit ratio can vary significantly compared to the outpatient setting. Some degree of acute pain is not uncommon among inpatients. Acetaminophen is generally considered the drug of choice in pregnancy for mild to moderate acute pain, while most opioids are thought to be safe for short-term use to manage moderate to severe pain. Providing sedation is particularly challenging as the few options available for the general population are further limited by either known increased risk of congenital malformations or very limited human pregnancy data. Propofol is the only agent recommended for continuous sedation, which has a Food and Drug Administration classification as a pregnancy category B medication. Treatment of infections in hospitalized patients requires balancing the microbiology profile against the fetal risk. Older antimicrobials proven generally safe include beta-lactams, and those with proven fetal risks include tetracyclines. However, little to no information regarding gestational use is available on the newer antimicrobials that are frequently employed to treat resistant infections more commonly found in the inpatient setting. Management of maternal blood pressure is based on the severity of blood pressure elevations and not the hypertensive classification. Agents generally considered safe to use in hypertensive pregnant patients include methyldopa, labetolol, and hydralazine, while angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, and atenolol should be avoided.

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