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Treating Pain During Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, treating a simple ailment can seem complicated. Because of fear about the use of medicines during pregnancy, some pregnant women would rather suffer than treat their pain. Consequently, it is possible that such women are at risk of undertreatment, or no treatment, for painful conditions. Chronic, severe pain that is ineffectively treated is associated with hypertension, anxiety, and depression, and none of those are good for a healthy pregnancy either. 

In general, it's best to avoid any unnecessary medications in your pregnancy. But that doesn't mean you should suffer. If you truly can't get by without medication, your doctor can tell you which over-the-counter and prescription drugs are safe to take at your stage of pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can also suggest drug-free options that might ease your symptoms.

A cold compress, rest, and staying well hydrated can help alleviate headaches and muscle pain during pregnancy, but if you need additional relief, your doctor may recommend acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol). When this drug is used as directed, it's usually a safe option. However, it's best to avoid aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen (the painkiller in Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve). Some studies suggest that taking these medications near conception or in early pregnancy may increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

Ultimately, medications used in therapeutic doses for acute and chronic pain appear to be relatively safe in pregnancy. To minimize fetal risk, most prescribers will start with the lowest effective dose, especially in late pregnancy, and select analgesics only after careful review of a woman’s medical or medication history.

Women should avoid using NSAIDs after 32 weeks because of the possibility of antiplatelet or prolonged bleeding effects. Opioids should also be used with caution, especially in higher doses in late pregnancy when the infant should be observed carefully in the neonatal period for any signs of withdrawal (neonatal abstinence syndrome).

If you are pregnant and experiencing chronic or acute pain, you don't have to suffer. Ask your doctor what relief methods or medicines might be right for you.

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