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Standard Labor-Delaying Drug Has Safer Alternative

Although obstetricians have been using magnesium sulfate for many years as the standard drug for delaying preterm labor, a new study shows that an alternative treatment presents fewer and less-serious birth injury side effects for both mothers and infants. The drug, nifedipine, is safer and essentially as effective as magnesium sulfate, a drug with sometimes severe side effects.

Magnesium Sulfate for Delaying Labor

Preterm labor is a major problem in the United States, where 12.3% of births are preterm (defined as delivery before 37 weeks of gestation). Infants born prematurely are at risk for many more health problems than full-term infants. Preterm labor cannot be delayed very long however, and obstetricians use a tocolytic agent such as magnesium sulfate to lessen the contractions of a mother going into premature labor. The labor can be put off for about 48 hours.

Severe Side Effects

A woman in labor who is given magnesium sulfate  may experience vomiting, lethargy, and blurry vision. A more severe side effect is fluid build-up in her lungs. A new study at Stanford University compared magnesium sulfate to a newer alternative for delaying preterm delivery, nifedipine.

One hundred and ninety-two women in preterm labor were randomly assigned to be treated with intravenous magnesium sulfate or oral nifedipine, and outcomes of the births were examined. The results, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, revealed significant differences in the two drugs' side effects.

Two-thirds of the women treated with magnesium sulfate suffered mild to severe side effects, including fluid build-up in the lungs. In contrast, only one-third of the nifedipine-treated women experienced a side effect, most often a headache.

Intensive Care for Infants More Likely

More troubling was the finding that the infants of the mothers treated with magnesium sulfate were more likely to be admitted to a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and to stay in a NICU longer: 8.8 days median versus 4.2 days for the infants of nifedipine-treated mothers.

The two drugs' effectiveness at delaying preterm labor was essentially the same. Since the rate of preterm births continues to rise in the U.S., it is of particular importance to identify the best treatments for delaying preterm labor, for both mothers and infants. According to one of the new study's lead authors, Dr. Deirdre Lyell of the Stanford University Medical School, although physicians are more comfortable with magnesium sulfate in part because that is what they were trained to use, nifedipine is a viable and perhaps safer alternative.

(Source: Los Angeles Times; Forbes)

Have serious side effects of a medication harmed you or your baby?  Consult an experienced drug attorney today to learn about your legal rights. 

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