Treatment of inflammatory rheumatic disorders in pregnancy. What are the safest treatment options?

Monika Østensen*, Rosalind Ramsey-Goldman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


The interaction of pregnancy and the rheumatic diseases varies, ranging from life-threatening conditions such as thromboembolic events and progressive renal disease in some autoimmune disorders, to minor flares of peripheral arthritis in inflammatory rheumatic disease. As a consequence, treatment strategy will vary according to the maternal or fetal compromise expected. All nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including high dose aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), can cause adverse effects during pregnancy related to the inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis. Prolongation of gestation and labour, constriction of the ductus arteriosus, persistent fetal circulation, impairment of renal function and bleeding are risks of third trimester exposure of pregnant women to all inhibitors of cyclo-oxygenase. Most of these adverse effects can be prevented by discontinuing NSAIDs 8 weeks prior to delivery. Low dose aspirin has not been associated with fetal or neonatal toxicity. Some corticosteroids such as prednisone and prednisolone do not readily cross the placenta and can be safely used during pregnancy as immunosuppressive drugs. Maternal complications related to corticosteroids may occur and close monitoring is therefore mandatory. There is limited information on the safety of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs including gold, antimalarials, penicillamine (D-penicillamine), sulfasalazine and cyclosporin. Of these agents, sulfasalazine has the best record for tolerability and can be used by pregnant patients. Gold compounds and penicillamine should be discontinued when pregnancy is recognised. Hydroxychloroquine has not been associated with congenital malformations and seems preferable to chloroquine in patients requiring treatment with antimalarials. Use of cyclosporin may be an alternative to other therapy in pregnant patients with severe rheumatic disease. Indications for treatment with colchicine during pregnancy are few, except for familial Mediterranean fever. Azathioprine can be used when the maternal condition requires a cytotoxic drug during the first trimester. Cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil and methotrexate are contraindicated during pregnancy because of their teratogenic potential. Their use may be considered in late pregnancy if the mother has a life-threatening condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-410
Number of pages22
JournalDrug Safety
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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