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Do Painkillers Cause Infertility In Women?

Over-the-counter medications seem to be very effective in curing minor health issues and people are getting more and more reliant on them. How convenient is it to pop a pill just to relieve yourself of the splitting headache or back pain? But these do certainly come with their own side effects, especially for women.

If you heavily rely on pain medications to get you through a busy day, it may be wise to ditch the habit of pill popping, especially if you are trying to have a baby. Read on to find out how common painkillers may be ruining your chances of getting pregnant.

Do Painkillers Cause Infertility In Women?

Recent studies have found that the use of long term non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), commonly known as over-the-counter pain medications, have been known to cause infertility on women [1] . Almost all of the NSAIDs present in the market are known to inhibit the production of a certain enzyme in the female body that is solely responsible for ovulation, implantation and placentation [1] .

Ibuprofen and diphenhydramine are some of the common painkillers that are found in almost every medicine cabinet. These medications are used to treat everything from a small back pain to a fever. However, long term usage of these medications is known to mess with the ovulation cycle and the reproductive hormones in women and becomes the main cause of ovulation dysfunction [2] .

How Do Painkillers Cause Infertility In Women?

The active ingredients present in the painkillers like ibuprofen and diphenhydramine are great to relieve pain. However, they suppress the production of prostaglandins, the hormones that regulate the ovulation cycle in women. These medications also cause certain hormone dysfunction if coupled with other bad lifestyle habits like smoking and excessive drinking [3] . Long term use of these medications can cause permanent infertility, which may turn out to be untreatable.

Do Painkillers Affect Pregnancy?

Many women face a number of issues during their pregnancy, probably during the first time. You need to remember that taking painkillers without a prescription can have some disastrous effects on the foetus [4] . If you are going through pain during your pregnancy period, your doctor will be able to advise the best possible way to manage your pain.

After all, medications are not always the answer to everything, especially during pregnancy.

Side Effects Of Taking Pain Killers During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is indeed a painful period where your body is going through a sea of changes. Aches and pains here and there are bound to happen. However, doctors refrain from prescribing pain medications during pregnancy as these medications are found to have a negative effect on the baby.

Though medications like paracetamol are the first line of defence against fever or pain during pregnancy, a lot of studies have found that these medications interfere in the neurological development of the foetus in the womb during the early stages [4] .

If the developing foetus is exposed to high levels of painkillers and other over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen, it increases the offspring's chances of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder during early childhood [5] .

Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory drugs used in the treatment of regular symptoms during pregnancy may predispose to oxidative stress in the foetus. This has a huge effect on the neurological brain development of the baby, which means that these infants have more chances of developing autism later in life [6] .

Does Taking Painkillers During Pregnancy Lead To Birth Defects?

Recent studies have found that the risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects increase by 2-3% if common painkillers and other anti-inflammatory drugs were consumed commonly during pregnancy [7] . Certain medications prescribed for issues such as anxiety, seizures, depression etc., which are quite common in pregnant women can lead to birth defects in unborn babies.

The chemicals released by these drugs can enter the infant's bloodstream through the placenta. It can damage the developing system of the foetus, majorly the central nervous system, giving rise to a number of brain-related birth defects. Furthermore, the drugs can also constrict the blood vessels around the placenta and restrict the movement of nutrients from the mother to the baby. This will eventually result in underweight and an underdeveloped baby. The constriction of the blood vessels can also cause premature contraptions and preterm delivery as well [8] .

Which Are The Medications That May Cause Infertility In Women In The Long Run?

  • Psychiatric medications - Commonly used antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs are known to interfere with the hormone that regulates the ovulation cycle in women and delay pregnancy [9] .
  • Over-the-counter- painkillers - Commonly abused over the counter medications are worse if taken in the long run. They not only result in hormonal disruption but are also known to interfere with any fertility medications as well [2] .
  • Antiepileptic and antipsychotic medications - They are known to increase the levels of prolactin in the body that leads to the delay in ovulation [10] .
  • Thyroid medicines - Thyroid medications have to be monitored quite closely. If you are suffering from a thyroid problem, it is strictly advised to take the medicines as per the doctor's order. Consuming too much or too little can be disastrous for your reproductive health [11] .
  • Skin products with hormones - If you are on any skin treatment and are consuming a lot of medications for the same, there are high chances of them interfering with your plans for pregnancy. Most of the skin creams are high in progesterone and estrogen that may alter ovulation [12] .

Points To Remember

  • It is highly advised to consult a doctor instead of relying on self-medication to solve even what seems to be a minor health issue. Popping the pill may be very convenient but it would just keep you away from getting to the root cause of the health problem.
  • If you are on regular medications, you may have to follow your doctor's advice regarding the correct dosage and get the updated prescription periodically [13] .
  • If you have planning to conceive, you may have to communicate it with your doctor, who may recommend some alternate and safe medications to manage your pain [13] .
  • Though not all cases of infertility are irreversible, there may be serious consequences if you are taking over-the-counter painkillers for a long time without a doctor's prescription [2] .

On A Final Note...

If you have been trying to get pregnant with no results, it may be wise to check your medicine cabinet for the above-mentioned medications. Also, you need to remember that frequent consumption of over-the-counter medications may have a large effect on your fertility, there are other factors to consider [13] . It is advisable to talk with your doctor at length regarding the difficulties you may face while conceiving.

View Article References
  1. [1] Mendonca, L. L. F., Khamashta, M. A., Nelson‐Piercy, C., Hunt, B. J., & Hughes, G. R. V. (2000). Non‐steroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs as a possible cause for reversible infertility. Rheumatology, 39(8), 880-882.
  2. [2] Matyas, R. A., Mumford, S. L., Schliep, K. C., Ahrens, K. A., Sjaarda, L. A., Perkins, N. J., … Schisterman, E. F. (2015). Effects of over-the-counter analgesic use on reproductive hormones and ovulation in healthy, premenopausal women. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 30(7), 1714- 1723.
  3. [3] Matyas, R. A., Mumford, S. L., Schliep, K. C., Ahrens, K. A., Sjaarda, L. A., Perkins, N. J., ... & Schisterman, E. F. (2015). Effects of over-the-counter analgesic use on reproductive hormones and ovulation in healthy, premenopausal women. Human Reproduction, 30(7), 1714-1723.
  4. [4] De Fays, L., Van Malderen, K., De Smet, K., Sawchik, J., Verlinden, V., Hamdani, J., ... & Dan, B. (2015). Use of paracetamol during pregnancy and child neurological development. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 57(8), 718-724.
  5. [5] Andrade, C. (2016). Use of acetaminophen (paracetamol) during pregnancy and the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the offspring. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 77(3), e312-4.
  6. [6] Andrade, C. (2016). Use of acetaminophen (paracetamol) during pregnancy and the risk of autism spectrum disorder in the offspring. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 77(2), 152-154.
  7. [7] Mulder, B., Bijlsma, M. J., Schuiling-Veninga, C. C., Morssink, L. P., van Puijenbroek, E., Aarnoudse, J. G., … de Vries, T. W. (2017). Risks versus benefits of medication use during pregnancy: what do women perceive?. Patient preference and adherence, 12, 1–8
  8. [8] Sachdeva, P., Patel, B. G., & Patel, B. K. (2009). Drug use in pregnancy; a point to ponder!. Indian journal of pharmaceutical sciences, 71(1), 1-7.
  9. [9] Worly, B. L., & Gur, T. L. (2015). The effect of mental illness and psychotropic medication on gametes and fertility: a systematic review. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 76(7), 974-985.
  10. [10] Galbally, M., Snellen, M., & Power, J. (2014). Antipsychotic drugs in pregnancy: a review of their maternal and fetal effects. Therapeutic advances in drug safety, 5(2), 100-109.
  11. [11] Priya, D. M., Akhtar, N., & Ahmad, J. (2015). Prevalence of hypothyroidism in infertile women and evaluation of response of treatment for hypothyroidism on infertility. Indian journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 19(4), 504–506.
  12. [12] Bretveld, R. W., Thomas, C. M., Scheepers, P. T., Zielhuis, G. A., & Roeleveld, N. (2006). Pesticide exposure: the hormonal function of the female reproductive system disrupted?. Reproductive biology and endocrinology : RB&E, 4, 30.
  13. [13] Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Using medication: The safe use of over-the-counter painkillers. 2016 Apr 6 [Updated 2017 Aug 10]
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