10 Common Drugs & The Effects Of Their Use During Pregnancy

Expecting mothers have a lot on their minds when it comes to the health of their babies. Diet, stress level, and general health all affect an unborn baby in its mother’s womb, but which drugs a mother chooses to put into her body, if any, can potentially have an enormous impact on the long term health of the child. Many parents have questions about drugs. Which are safe? Which can be harmful to the child? What are the possible effects of medication a mother might need to take? When these questions arise, the most important thing an expecting mother can do for her baby’s health is to educate herself and take informed action.

1 Ibuprofen

Two studies have shown that Ibuprofen use is associated with an increase chance of miscarriage, but other studies did not find that link. However, it is accepted that usage of Ibuprofen in the third trimester can have adverse effects on the child.

Physical Effects: Usage of the drug in the third trimester can lead to premature closure of the arteriosus, a valve in the fetal heart, or may inhibit labor. If the mother must take Ibuprofen during pregnancy, she should take the lowest possible dosage, and have her doctor closely monitor the baby’s heart rate and fluid volume.

Brain/Learning Effects: None

Psychological Effects: None

Addiction Issues: None

2 Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Tylenol is the pain reliever of choice for most pregnant women. It has no known effects on the development of infants still in the womb, though it should not be taken above the recommended dosage, or by women with liver complications.

Physical Effects None

Brain/Learning Effects: None

Psychological Effects: None

Addiction Issues: None

3 Aspirin

The original “wonder drug,” Aspirin has been associated with a number of birth defects and pregnancy complications, and should not be taken during pregnancy unless the mother has been prescribed Aspirin for a specific condition, such as heart disease.

Physical Effects: Taken during the early days of the pregnancy, Aspirin has bee associated with miscarriage. Adult-sized doses of Aspirin taken in the second and third trimester have been known to cause delayed labor. Aspirin use has also been associated with bleeding complications during pregnancy and heart and lung problems in the child.

Brain/Learning Effects: Aspirin has not been reported to affect the brain or development of children.

Psychological Effects: None

Addiction Issues: None

4 Benzodiazepines

These anxiety-relieving drugs include Valium , Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan , and should be avoided during pregnancy if possible.

Physical Effects: Studies have not associated usage of these drugs with physical birth defects.

Brain/Learning Effects: Normal usage does not appear to correlate to any long term developmental problems, but exceeding the recommended dosage is not recommended.

Psychological Effects: Taking these drugs close to the time of delivery can cause jitteriness, irritability and sleep disturbances in infants.

Addiction Issues: Babies who are exposed to Benzodiazepines close to the time of delivery have exhibited withdrawal symptoms including abnormal body temperature, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, irritability, crying, sleep disturbances, tremors, and jitteriness.

5 Isotretinoin

Marketed as Accutane, Amnesteem, Claravis, ad Sotret, isotretinoin is a man-man made form of Vitamin A used to treat severe acne. It has been found to contribute to a number of serious birth defects. Risk of early pregnancy or miscarriage could be up to 40%.

Physical Effects: Up to 35% of babies whose mothers use isotrentinoin during pregnancy experience some form of physical birth defect, including small or absent ears, hearing and eyesight problems. Fewer will have a small jaw, small head, or cleft palate and some will be born with a small or missing thymus gland. Almost half risk threatening heart defects and/or fluid in the brain.

Brain/Learning Effects: The risk of fluid developing in the infant’s brain is almost 50%, and almost 40% will have difficulty hearing or seeing. Some experience severe retardation and developmental delay.

Psychological Effects: None, on the infant, but some cases depression and/or psychosis in adults have been linked with isotretinoin, which in turn can affect a child reared by the adult.

Addiction Issues: None

6 Alcohol

The dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy are well documented. The drug causes numerous birth defects and the condition fetal alcohol syndrome. It should be noted that many over the counter drugs, like Nyquil, contain alcohol as an ingredient, and should be avoided during pregnancy for this reason.

Physical Effects: Physical deformities of FAS include facial deformities, such as widely-spaced eyes, overgrown eyelids, thin upper lip, small distance between the upper lip and nose, and a flattened, or spread-out, nose.

Brain/Learning Effects: The brain is impacted by FAS as well, and babies born with it exhibit abnormal brain development, leading to impairment of intellectual and motor (movement) abilities.

Psychological Effects: Due to developmental problems in the brain, children with FAS may have difficulty keeping up with classmates, and may not wish to attend school, a serious detriment to their long term social and psychological development.

Addiction Issues: None

7 Cocaine

There is no safe amount of cocaine that may be taken during pregnancy, as some amount will enter the infant’s body and remain there for 2-7 days, potentially causing severe defects.

Physical Effects: Defects reported with cocaine use include abnormality in the infant’s skull, face, eyes, heart, limbs, intestines, genitals, and urinary tract. Babies tend to weigh less at birth and be shorter in length, making them more likely to die in their first month. They are also more likely to have serious chronic health problems, such as difficulty breathing.

Brain/Learning Effects: The brain and central nervous system can be significantly impacted by maternal cocaine use. These could lead to changes in behavior language difficulties and delayed learning later in life.

Psychological Effects: Infants exposed to cocaine are found to be more irritable, jittery, and to have interrupted sleep patterns, visual disturbances, and problems with sensory stimulation.

Addiction Issues: Infants exposed to cocaine near birth often exhibit withdrawal symptoms, including increased irritability, tremulousness, muscular rigidity, poor sucking ability that hampers feeding, sleeplessness, and hyperactivity or, in some cases, tiredness. Less common but more serious withdrawal symptoms have been noted, among them vomiting, diarrhea, and seizures.

8 Marijuana

While not known to cause significant birth defects, it is known that THC does cross the placenta and enter the body of the child.

Physical Effects: The primary physical dangers of marijuana usage during pregnancy are the same as cigarette use: a link to miscarriage or low birth weight.

Brain/Learning Effects: Some mental development issues have been reportedly linked with marijuana usage during pregnancy (see Psychological Effects below).

Psychological Effects: Behavior issues include problems with attention, impulsive behavior, and academic performance have been reported.

Addiction Issues: If the mother uses marijuana in the third trimester of her pregnancy, the baby could experience withdrawal symptoms such as increased tremors and crying.

9 Methamphedamine

Drugs in this category are often prescribed by physicians to treat specific problems, and small doses can be weighed against the possible risk they pose to mothers and their infants. However, high (illegal) doses of Methamphetamine should never be taken during pregnancy under any circumstances, and even small, prescribed doses should be avoided if possible.

Physical Effects: Methamphetamine usage is strongly associated with miscarriage, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.

Brain/Learning Effects: Infants whose mothers used Methamphetamines during pregnancy are at risk for life-long breathing, hearing, vision, and learning problems.

Psychological Effects: Some studies show that children whose mothers used methamphetamines exhibit trouble in school, and more behavior problems.

Addiction Issues: Babies often exhibit serious withdrawal symptoms if their mothers used methamphetamines during the third trimester. These symptoms include trouble eating, difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, being very floppy or very tight, and being very jittery. Sometimes babies experience tremors or lack of muscle tone for many months after birth.

10 Tobacco

Smoking and tobacco use in general should be avoided during all trimesters of pregnancy, though mothers may find it easiest to quit during the first trimester.

Physical Effects: Cigarette use can cause premature and underweight births, and increases the chance for a miscarriage or stillborn birth significantly. It is also linked with Placenta previa (a low-lying placenta that covers part or all of the opening of the uterus) and placental abruption (in which the placenta peels away, partially or almost completely, from the uterine wall before delivery). Tobacco use can also contribute to sudden infant death syndrome.

Brain/Learning Effects: None

Psychological Effects: None

Addiction Issues: Babies of mothers who smoke do appear to experience withdrawal symptoms, and are more jittery and difficult to soothe.

10 Things Your Skin Says About Your Health

If skin were merely a sausage casing for the rest of you, it wouldn’t be nearly so useful. An organ itself (your body’s largest in terms of both weight and surface area), skin protects against invasive bacteria, regulates body temperature, and picks up information from the stimulation of touch, pressure, pain, heat, and cold. Little wonder, then, that when there’s something wrong with you on the inside, your skin sometimes sends up the first warning flare.

“Diabetes, for example, is generally a silent disease, but it can lead to distinct changes to the skin. So the skin may in fact be the first indicator of what’s happening,” notes dermatologist Amy Newburger, MD, of Scarsdale, New York, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

Here’s the skinny on ten dermatologic oddities worth watching for in yourself or someone you love.

1. Red flag: Yellowish skin, orange palms and soles

What it means: The cartoonish skin hues of carotenemia can be the unfunny result of an underactive thyroid gland — hypothyroidism — which causes increased levels of beta-carotene in the blood. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, found in fruits and vegetables, that normally gets processed by the thyroid. When there’s a thyroid problem, the gland doesn’t metabolize the vitamins as quickly, so beta-carotene accumulates. You can also get Technicolor skin due to beta-carotene buildup thanks to a diet heavy on carrots, carrot juice, sweet potatoes, and squash.

More clues: The skin of someone with hypothyroidism also tends to be dry and cold, and sometimes more pale than yellowed. Feeling tired, sluggish, weak, or achy are the main symptoms, along with possible unexplained weight gain. Women over 50 most often develop hypothyroidism.

What to do: Carotenemia caused by a skewed diet isn’t serious and resolves itself when a broader range of foods is consumed. Hypothyroidism, however, is a medical condition that can lead to such complications as heart problems, so a combination of skin changes plus fatigue warrants attention from a doctor.

2. Red flag: Breaking out in hives in the sun

What it means: Being truly allergic to the sun is pretty rare (although this kind of immune system response can happen in some people). A more likely explanation for going outside on a sunny day and coming back with an itchy rash that looks like hives or eczema is having taken a photosensitizing drug. A chemical in the medication causes changes that increase the person’s sensitivity to light.

“It’s common in the Northeast to have no problem all winter long, and as soon as the weather gets nice and folks are outside less bundled up, the rash appears,” says Newburger.

More clues: The rash is limited to sun-exposed areas, including the forearms, the neck, and, less commonly, the face. It can feel worse and last longer than a sunburn. It doesn’t matter whether you’re fair-skinned or dark-skinned; anyone can have a photoreaction. One of the most common drug culprits: thiazide diuretics (Hydrodiuril, Dyazide), which are a first-line treatment for hypertension. Other meds that can produce this effect include antihistamines, tetracycline, the antiaging and antiacne drug tretinoin, and tricyclic antidepressants. Two different people can react quite differently to the same drug. Or you may have no reaction one time but a severe reaction later.

What to do: Check the labels of your prescription medications. Look for phrases such as “May cause chemical photosensitivity.” Use a high-SPF sunscreen or sunblock but know that this may not prevent the rash; the best advice is to wear sunglasses and a broad-rimmed hat, cover the skin, and limit sun exposure. Tell your doctor, too; a switch in medicines may prevent further rashes.

3. Red flag: Long dark lines in the palm

What it means: A palm-reading mystic might have her own interpretation, but to a physician, a deepening of the pigment in the creases of the palms or soles is a symptom of adrenal insufficiency, an endocrine disorder. Also known as Addison’s disease, the name comes from its discoverer, physician Thomas Addison, a rather its two most famous victims, President John F. Kennedy and — it’s thought — the writer Jane Austen.

More clues: Hyperpigmentation may also be visible around other skin folds, scars, lips, and pressure points (knees, knuckles). Addison’s sufferers have low blood pressure, which falls further when the person stands. Salt loss can lead to a craving for salty food. The disease affects men and women equally but is found most commonly between ages 30 and 50.

What to do: It’s important to mention this visible symptom to a doctor, as skin changes may be the first symptoms seen before an acute attack (pain, vomiting, dehydration, and loss of consciousness, a cascade known as an Addisonian crisis). Lab tests to measure cortisol (which is produced by the adrenal gland) provide a diagnosis.

4. Red flag: Large, dusky blue leg veins

What it means: Some of your veins are no longer working properly when you spy ropy, blue-to-purple lines snaking up your legs. Venous disease — a.k.a. varicose veins — can be a mere cosmetic annoyance or can cause pain, cramping, and difficulty walking. Veins rely on one-way valves, like shutters, to keep blood circulating; when they stop working, blood leaks back into the vein and pools there.

More clues: Varicose veins are sometimes mistaken for spider veins, a weblike network of smaller blue or red veins closer to the skin’s surface. Varicose veins tend to be larger, darker, and sometimes raised, with a twisted appearance. (The name comes from the Latin varix, or “twisted.”) Half of all people over age 50 have varicose veins, especially women. They often first appear in pregnancy.

What to do: Exercise, compression stockings, and avoiding constricting postures (like crossing your legs when seated) can help ease discomfort, but they won’t make varicose veins disappear. Not all faulty veins cause problems. However, if the veins cause pain or become warm and tender to the touch, tell your doctor. Severe venous insufficiency can lead to dangerous blood clots. Treatments with good success rates include sclerotherapy (injecting a solution to shut the vein) and surgery — also options if you just can’t bear how your legs look at the beach.

5. Red flag: Brownish spots on the shins

What it means: The fronts of the legs along the shins tend to bang and bump into things a lot. For someone with diabetes, the damage to the capillaries and small blood vessels that are characteristic of the disease will cause them to leak when traumatized, leading to brown discoloration known as diabetic dermopathy.

More clues: The brownish patches may also be rough, almost scaly (although they don’t open up), and tend to form ovals or circles. They don’t hurt. Another common skin change of diabetes to look for: An open, unhealed sore on the foot. Diabetics lose the perception of pain, temperature, and touch on their feet, making them unlikely to notice common foot blisters — which then go untreated and may become infected.

What to do: There’s no health danger from diabetic dermopathy, and no need for treatment. But if someone who hasn’t been diagnosed with diabetes shows these signs, it’s worth checking for other signs of diabetes, such as thirst, excessive urination, tiredness, or blurry vision.

6. Red flag: Persistent rash that you want to scratch raw

What it means: Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) — clusters of small, ferociously itchy blisters that show up repeatedly in the forearms near the elbows, the knees, the buttocks, the back, or the face or scalp — are a hallmark of celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten. As many as one in four people with celiac disease have DH.

More clues: The rash appears on both sides of the body. Itching and burning are so intense you can hardly quit scratching. People with DH don’t usually have the digestive symptoms of celiac disease, but they’re intolerant of gluten just the same. DH often shows up between ages 30 and 40, and most often in people of northern European heritage.

What to do: Report the rashes to your regular doctor or a doctor who specializes in skin disorders to evaluate and rule out other causes. Blood tests and a biopsy of tissue from the small intestine are used to diagnose DH. A gluten-free diet for life is usually advised to keep symptoms at bay; this includes banishing foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Drugs may help control the rashes.

7. Red flag: Purple stains or splotches

What it means: What looks a bit like a bruise, is often mistaken for a bruise, but tends to hang around longer because it’s not exactly a bruise? Purpura (from the Latin for “purple”), or leaking blood vessels under the skin. It has several possible causes, ranging from a bleeding disorder to scurvy (vitamin C deficiency). But in adults over age 65, in whom it’s common, the main explanation is thin skin, often made even more fragile by years of sun damage and weakened blood vessels. Then the condition is known by the unfortunate name of senile purpura.

“A substantial excessive intake of aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, vitamin E, or ginkgo biloba, which older adults often take to boost memory, can worsen the condition,” says dermatoligst Newburger. So can blood thinners, such as coumadin, alcohol, and steroids.

More clues: A classic bruise tends to turn black and blue following an injury. With purpura, in contrast, there doesn’t need to be any trauma; the discoloration starts as red and turns purple, persisting longer than a bruise before fading or remaining brownish. The purple skin doesn’t blanch (fade or lose color) when you press it. Purpura can cover large patches of skin or show up as small purple speckles called petechiae. No matter what the size, the purple areas are most common on the forearms, legs, and backs of the hands.

What to do: Extensive or persistent bruises should always be evaluated by a doctor, as should someone who seems to bruise easily. It’s important to rule out underlying causes such as a bleeding disorder.

8. Red flag: Intense itchiness without rash

What it means: Feeling itchy in more than one specific spot can have many causes, but when there’s no accompanying visible skin change, it may be pruritis, one of the first symptoms of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). In fact, it’s known as the “Hodgkin itch” (the two main types of lymphoma being Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma).

More clues: The itchiness is more intense than that caused by ordinary dry skin. It can be felt generally or, most commonly, in the lower legs. Less often, the skin also looks reddish and inflamed. Another common symptom of both Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, collarbone, or groin. (Note that lymph nodes can swell because of common infections as well.)

What to do: Report persistent, intense itching to your doctor.

9. Red flag: Pallor, especially with blue-tinged nails

What it means: Severe anemia, a blood disorder, can show up as pasty, paler-than-usual skin on the face and palms. Anemia can be the result of iron deficiency, chronic blood loss from bowel disease, or ulcer disease, among other reasons. Iron-deficient anemia is sometimes seen in people over age 70, who may no longer prepare nutritious meals or have interest in eating them because of depression or other health problems.

More clues: Unlike merely having a pale complexion, the pallor of anemia tends to affect the usually-reddish tissues of the mouth, gums, and lips, too. Look for nail beds to be very pale, almost bluish. Other symptoms include being quick to tire, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

What to do: Consult a nutritionist or doctor. Over-the-counter or prescription iron supplements usually correct anemia caused by a nutritional deficiency. It helps to eat more iron-rich foods (red meat, egg yolks, dark leafy green vegetables, dried fruit), especially in tandem with vitamin C (as in orange juice) for best iron absorption. Cooking in an iron skillet adds iron, too.

10. Red flag: Tingling skin followed by a rash on only one side of the face or body

What it means: An often painful condition called shingles (herpes zoster) announces itself in this distinctive way. Shingles is caused by the same virus that gives people chicken pox. In eight out of ten people who get chicken pox, the virus retreats to the body’s sensory nerves and stays there. But stress, infection, certain medications (such as those used in chemotherapy and after transplants), or an aging immune system can reactivate the virus years later, producing shingles.

More clues: A burning sensation and sensitivity to touch often precede the shingles rash by days or weeks. (Or, in some lucky people, the pain may be mild.) The rash itself first looks like raised red bumps, not unlike chicken pox, appearing in a band or strip on the trunk, legs, face, neck — but only on the left or the right side. Within a few days, the bumps turn into fluid-filled pustules, which crust over a week to ten days later.

What to do: See a doctor as soon as you feel the pain, if you suspect you’re in a high-risk group. Starting antiviral medication within 72 hours of the rash’s appearance can reduce the severity of the disease and lower your odds of developing a complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). In PHN, the searing pain of shingles can continue for weeks, months, or even years. People older than age 70 are most likely to develop PHN, but anyone can.

5 Foods Linked to ADHD

Artificial food coloring has long been suspected of contributing to diagnoses of ADHD, but a new study from Perth’s Telethon Institute for Child Health Research shows an association between ADHD and the broader diet patterns of a ‘Western-style’ diet in adolescents. The research has just been published online in the international Journal of Attention Disorders.

Leader of Nutrition studies at the Institute, Associate Professor Wendy Oddy, explained that the researchers looked at the dietary patterns of 1800 adolescents from the Raine Study and classified diets into ‘Healthy’ or ‘Western’ patterns. The Raine Study is an ongoing health research project which has followed a large group of mothers and their offspring over the past 18 years.

What researchers found is that a diet high in foods typical of the standard Western diet was associated with more than double the risk of having an ADHD diagnosis, compared with a diet low in the Western pattern–even after adjusting for other social and family influences.

“We looked at the dietary patterns amongst the adolescents and compared the diet information against whether or not the adolescent had received a diagnosis of ADHD by the age of 14 years. In our study, 115 adolescents had been diagnosed with ADHD, 91 boys and 24 girls.”

A ‘healthy pattern’ is a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and fish–it is generally higher in omega-3 fatty acids, folate and fibre. A ‘Western pattern’ is a diet generally higher in total fat, saturated fat, refined sugar and sodium.

When they looked at specific foods, having an ADHD diagnosis was associated with a diet high in these five food categories:

1. Fast foods

2. Processed meats

3. Red meat

4. High fat dairy products

5. Sweets

Oddy says that, “a Western dietary pattern may indicate the adolescent has a less optimal fatty acid profile, whereas a diet higher in omega-3 fatty acids is thought to hold benefits for mental health and optimal brain function. It also may be that the Western dietary pattern doesn’t provide enough essential micronutrients that are needed for brain function, particularly attention and concentration, or that a Western diet might contain more colours, flavours and additives that have been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms. It may also be that impulsivity, which is a characteristic of ADHD, leads to poor dietary choices such as quick snacks when hungry.”

Dr Oddy said that although this study suggests that diet may be implicated in ADHD, more research is needed to determine the nature of the relationship.

8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener and Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softeners

If you enjoy the smell of clean clothes straight out of the dryer you may be shocked to learn that smell comes at a cost. Most commercial fabric softeners–dryer sheets or the liquid variety–contain many toxic chemicals. Here are eight toxins found in most fabric softeners (and eight reasons to switch to natural options.)

8 Toxins Lurking in Your Fabric Softener

1. Alpha-Terpineol–This chemical has been linked to disorders of the brain and nervous system, loss of muscle control, depression, and headaches

2. Benzyl acetate–Benzyl acetate has been linked to cancer of the pancreas

3. Benzyl alcohol–Linked to headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, depression, as well as disorders of the brain and nervous system

4. Chloroform–Chloroform is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Hazardous Waste list because it has been identified as a carcinogen and neurotoxin (toxic to the brain and nervous system)

5. Ethanol–also on the EPA’s Hazardous Waste list for its ability to cause brain and nervous system disorder

6. Ethyl Acetate–causes headaches and is on the EPA Hazardous Waste list

7. Linalool–in studies, this chemical caused loss of muscle coordination, nervous system and brain disorders, and depression

8. Pentane–causes headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, and depression

The standard argument in favor of using fabric softeners is that the amount of the chemicals to which a person is exposed is insufficient to cause harm. Studies are showing that even small amounts of these toxins can have serious effects. So, think twice before you add that dryer sheet or liquid fabric softener to your laundry, particularly for children whose developing brains are more vulnerable to the effects of toxins.

6 Natural Alternatives to Toxic Fabric Softeners

1. Add a 1/2 cup of baking soda to the water in your washing machine and let it dissolve prior to adding your clothes. This is preferred method since the baking soda acts as a water softener and helps makes clothes super soft.

2. Some people toss tennis balls or other rubber balls into the dryer with clothes. I’m not a huge fan of this method since the heat of the dryer can cause the rubber to off-gas onto your clothing. If you have an allergy to latex, this is definitely not the method for you. Plus, I wouldn’t choose this method if you’re drying delicate clothing items.

3. Adding a cup of vinegar to the wash water can also soften clothes but I don’t find this method as effective as the baking soda technique.

4. To help with static, there’s the aluminum foil ball technique. Tightly scrunch a piece of foil to form a ball. Throw it in with clothes in the dryer. There is some possible concern with increasing your exposure to aluminum (which has been linked to some brain disorders). It can also snag delicate clothes.

5. Try to keep synthetic fabrics out of the dryer since they are the culprits when it comes to static. Natural fibers like cotton, bamboo, hemp, and linen are best dried on their own.

6. And, of course there are natural fabric softeners available in most health food stores. I must admit, though, that I don’t find them necessary. I try to purchase clothing made of natural fibers as much as possible and find my clothes are soft regardless whether they go through the dryer (free of fabric softeners) or are hung to dry.

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