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Is It Safe to Use Dexamethasone in Pregnancy?

By H. Lo
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid used to treat a variety of medical conditions. The safety of using dexamethasone in pregnancy is unknown. In general, a woman should only take dexamethasone in pregnancy when she has a medical condition that clearly calls for use of the medication. This is because taking dexamethasone in pregnancy can potentially cause harm to an unborn baby. Before taking dexamethasone in pregnancy, a woman should discuss the potential benefits and risks of the medication with her doctor.

A similar precaution pertains to taking dexamethasone while breastfeeding. A woman who is breastfeeding should also speak with her doctor before using the medication, as dexamethasone can pass into breast milk and cause a nursing child to experience side effects. Steroids in general can hinder the growth of a child and this is one of the risks associated with taking dexamethasone while breastfeeding. In addition, a nursing child might experience side effects such as diarrhea, vomiting and weakness as well. If a nursing child appears to have a delay in growth, or displays these or other symptoms, it is important to contact a doctor.

The primary function of dexamethasone itself is to reduce inflammation. Although this might be the case, and the medication is indeed used for this purpose, it is also used to treat other medical conditions as well. Examples of such conditions include arthritis, autoimmune disorders and cancer. If a pregnant woman has a condition that requires her to use dexamethasone, she might experience side effects, just as any other person might while taking the medication. Some side effects of dexamethasone are not as serious and include headache, trouble sleeping and upset stomach, while more serious side effects include abdominal pain, depression and vision problems.

There are various other precautions regarding dexamethasone and a pregnant woman should discuss these with her doctor before taking the medication. One important thing to remember about the medication is that as a steroid, not only can dexamethasone affect the growth of a child but it also weakens the immune system. As such, a pregnant woman who takes dexamethasone should be wary of acquiring an infection, as well as worsening an existing infection or even re-activating a previous infection. Also, she should stay away from those who carry any infection. Examples of this include viral infections such as chicken pox or measles as they can be fatal in those whose immune systems are weak.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By susanm01 — On Jan 16, 2013

IVF clinics prescribe Dexamethasone (Dex) because they believe it prevents miscarriage. The chances are it probably does; why else would they prescribe it?

But what is worrying is that the drug has been proven to have adverse effects on animals. There's no proof (yet) that it has an adverse effect on humans because no research has been carried out. So long as IVF babies are born without serious, obvious mental or physical defects, IVF clinics have no incentive to invest in research to find out if this drug is safe and has any long term effects.

For more information, see the recent article "IVF on Steroids" in The Atlantic on this.

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