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Preterm Labor Drug Causes More Side Effects

According to a study from researchers at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and Stanford University School of Medicine, the drug most commonly used to arrest preterm labor, magnesium sulfate, is more likely than another common treatment to cause mild to serious side effects in pregnant women.

Their findings suggest that, since the effectiveness of the two drugs appears similar, physicians should consider side effects more strongly when choosing which drug to prescribe.

Newborns whose mothers had received magnesium sulfate were also more likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit than those whose mothers had received the alternative treatment, although the data do not offer an explanation for this finding and more research needs to be conducted to rule out other causes. What is clear is that currently available treatments for preterm labor are far from perfect.

"There is no free lunch with any of these drugs," said Deirdre Lyell, MD, a specialist in high-risk obstetrics at the hospital's Johnson Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Services. "But magnesium sulfate has some particularly unpleasant side effects, including vomiting, lethargy and blurry vision. The alternative treatment, nifedipine, often leaves women feeling better."

Side effects are particularly important for women struggling with the risk of premature birth and the rapid medical decisions that might need to be made about the care of their newborn.

Lyell, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the medical school, and Yasser El-Sayed, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the medical school, are the lead and senior authors respectively of the research, which will be published in the July issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology. The study is the largest multicenter trial that randomized the use of the preterm labor drugs to compare outcome.

Preterm labor is defined as labor before 37 wee
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