Chicago patients rely on doctors for safe care, including the prescribing of medications that are both effective and safe. However, there are times when doctors prescribe medications with potential risks or without proven effectiveness specifically for the patient’s condition. Medication errors are a serious matter, and even more serious when an unborn baby is involved.
One 39-year-old pregnant woman was understandably upset when she discovered a drug prescribed for her, dexamethasone, known as dex, has been linked to serious and harmful side effects. It is sometimes prescribed by U.S. doctors with the intention of preventing miscarriages, especially when women become pregnant by in vitro fertilization. However, the drug has not been proven to be effective for preventing miscarriages. Dex is, however, known to be a drug that crosses the placental barrier, which could impact fetal development.
After learning of this, the woman became very concerned, especially since her doctor never mentioned this information.
The woman’s doctor told her nothing about the risks of dex when he prescribed the drug, and only after she pressured him about potential side effects was he forthcoming with such information.
Outraged, the woman demanded to know why he hadn’t talked to her about the risks before giving her the drug and subjecting her and her unborn baby to possible risks and pregnancy-related injuries. The doctor said he had decided the benefits outweighed the risks. However, he had decided this without making the patient aware of the possible harm of the drug or including her in the decision that directly impacted her and her baby.
There is not a lot of research available about the risks of using dex during pregnancy, which has caused some doctors to avoid giving dex to pregnant patients entirely since its effects are not truly known. Researchers in Sweden, though, have studied the use of dex in prenatal cases. Their findings caused them to eventually inform their ethics board that they were shutting down their study last year. Researchers discovered eight “severe adverse events” among 43 children exposed to dex in utero. Among those adverse events included mental retardation, memory problems and growth disorders.
Source: The Atlantic, “IVF on Steroids: The Dangerous Off-Label Use of ‘Dex’ During Pregnancy,” Alice Dreger, Jan. 16, 2013