Erring on the side of caution can be a mistake. (Photo: Photos.com)
Erring on the side of caution can be a mistake. (Photo: Photos.com)

Pregnant women shouldn’t simply surf for guidance on meds

Women round the world seek information about the use of medicines during pregnancy. Many are probably misinformed by advice found on the internet.

The internet is used by pregnant women as a key source of information in much of the world.

Many surf for information on the web and this is increasingly being augmented by social media chatting.

Over 7,000 women in 23 countries in Europe, the Americas, Russia and Australia have participated in a new study led from the University of Oslo (UiO).

The researchers wanted to know how common it is for pregnant women to have worries and questions about medicines and which sources of information they use for answers.

Midwife or the internet?
Hedvig Marie Egeland Nordeng is a professor at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Oslo. (Photo: UiO)
Hedvig Marie Egeland Nordeng is a professor at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Oslo. (Photo: UiO)

Over half the women interviewed reported having had a need for information about the uses of medicines during a pregnancy.

The most common sources of information among these women are physicians (73 percent), the internet (60 percent), pharmacy personnel (46 percent) and midwives/nurses (33 percent).

“But this varies widely from country to country,” says Hedvig Nordeng, a professor in pharmacology at the UiO’s School of Pharmacy and had chief responsibility for the study.

“Midwives and nurses are a common channel of information to pregnant women in the Northern European countries, but this is rarer for example in Eastern Europe.”

This is the first international comparative study of the places where pregnant women get their information about the use of medicines.

Uncertainty

The study revealed that an expectant mother on a quest for facts about the use of medicines checks out answers from three different sources on average.

Hedvig Nordeng says that researchers are not surprised about the magnitude of such information needs regarding the use of medicines. The demand was sizeable in all the countries that were covered in the study.

“It was already known that up to eight out of ten women use medicines during their pregnancies, so the big requirement for information correlates with that.”

Chatting about pregnancy

The researchers figured that the web was an important information source for pregnant women. However, Nordeng points out that the quality of such info on the internet varies widely.

But what probably worries Nordeng most is chatting on the web about medication use.

“When various sources offer an array of recommendations, pregnant women often put their trust in the most restrictive sources − to be on the safe side. This is a way of tackling risks.”

“Unfortunately, some expectant mothers prefer to listen to those admonishing that their child can get narcolepsy from a swine flu vaccination taken during pregnancy, rather than listening to what the public health officials’ advise. If a pregnant woman contracts swine flu the risk of complications for both the mother and the child is higher.”

Not just the facts

A key conclusion from the study is that health personnel round the world shouldn’t simply inform about the use of medicines – they also need to be better at talking about medicines with patients.

Nordeng has experienced that communication about risks requires certain skills. She says it’s clear that when a pregnant woman hears words like “birth defects”, “harm to the foetus”, “complications”, “risks” or “syndrome”, they find it harder to take a medicine. This applies even if the product is recommended by a doctor.

“So the way you impart knowledge to the pregnant woman is at least as salient as the facts you are passing on.”

Varies much between countries

The researchers also discovered that the use of medicines varies widely from country to country. They aim to find out more about this disparity. 

As for Norway, Nordeng thinks the health officials should create a special free call service for pregnant women. The effect of such telephone services has been documented in Europe, the USA and Canada.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no

Translated by: Glenn Ostling

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