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Key Findings: Prescription Medication Use among Women in the United States, 1999-2006

The Maternal and Child Health Journal published a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study where researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to better understand the frequency of prescription medication use among pregnant women and non-pregnant women between 15-44 years of age. They also identified the most commonly used prescription medications within these two groups of women. CDC researchers found that almost 1 in 4 pregnant women and nearly 1 in 2 non-pregnant women between 15-44 years of age reported using prescription medication in the last 30 days. These results highlight the importance of understanding the safety of medications that women use during pregnancy. You can read the article’s abstract here, and read more below for a summary of this study’s findings.

Main Findings from This Study

Most Commonly Used Prescription Medications Reported in the Past 30 Days

Non-Pregnant Women ages 15-44

Birth control pills (medications to prevent pregnancy)

Levothyroxine (a medication to treat some low thyroid conditions)

Albuterol (a medication to help control asthma)

Acetaminophen/Hydrocodone (a medication to manage moderate to severe pain)

SSRIs (antidepressant medications to treat depression and anxiety symptoms)

Pregnant Women

Levothyroxine (a medication to treat some low thyroid conditions)

Antibiotics (medications to treat some infections)

Insulin (a medication to manage diabetes)

Albuterol (a medication to help control asthma)

Promethazine (a medication to help with allergies or nausea)

Cetirizine (a medication to help with allergies)

Montelukast (a medication to help with asthma and allergies)

Budesonide (a medication to manage allergies, asthma, and some stomach conditions)

  • Almost 1 in 4 pregnant women and nearly 1 in 2 non-pregnant women of childbearing age reported using prescription medication in the last 30 days.
  • Non-pregnant women were much more likely to report using more than one prescription medication in the last 30 days than pregnant women.
  • There were some similarities in the types of prescription medications used by pregnant and non-pregnant women, but there were also some notable differences.

About this Study

  • Researchers used data collected between 1999-2006 from NHANES for this study.
  • NHANES is a cross-sectional survey designed to monitor the health and nutritional status of the civilian non-institutionalized U.S. population.1

Medication Use in Pregnancy
A Public Health Concern

  • 1 in every 33 U.S. babies is born with a birth defect.2
  • Taking certain medications, such as valproic acid (also known as Depakene or Depakote, which are used to treat seizures) or isotretinoin (also known as Accutane®, which is used to treat acne), puts a baby at risk for serious birth defects.
  • As of 2011, fewer than 10% of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1980 through 2010 have enough data to determine their risk for birth defects.3
  • Addressing these enormous knowledge gaps and equipping doctors with information to safely treat pregnant women is a growing and urgent public health problem.

Medication Use during Pregnancy: CDC’s Activities

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is working to improve the health of women and babies through its Treating for Two: Safer Medication Use in Pregnancy Initiative. Through Treating for Two, CDC is working with its partners, other federal agencies, and the public to understand trends in medication use among pregnant women and women of childbearing age and to provide women and healthcare providers with information about the safety or risk of using specific medications during pregnancy. This information will allow women and their doctors to make informed decisions about treating health conditions during pregnancy.

Treating for Two aims to:

  • Expand Research: Expand and increase research efforts on links between medication use and pregnancy outcomes.
  • Evaluate Evidence: Establish a system to review evidence and develop guidance for using specific medications in pregnancy.
  • Influence Practice: Deliver up-to-date information to healthcare providers and the public to support clinical decision-making.

More Information

Remember

Pregnant women should not stop or start taking any medications that they need without first talking with a healthcare provider. Women who are planning to become pregnant should discuss the need for any medication with their healthcare provider and ensure that they are taking only medications that are necessary.

Key Findings Reference

Tinker SC, Broussard CS, Frey MT, Gilboa SM. Prevalence of prescription medication use among non-pregnant women of childbearing age and pregnant women in the United States—NHANES, 1999-2006. Maternal and Child Health Journal 2014
[Read Abstract]

Additional References

  1. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Update on overall prevalence of major birth defects—Atlanta, Georgia, 1978-2005. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2008;57(1):1-5.
  3. Adam MP, Polifka JE, Friedman JM. Evolving knowledge of the teratogenicity of medications in human pregnancy. Am J Med Genet Part C Semin Med Genet. 2011; 157:175-82.
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