Like many of us, pregnant women take drugs that have not been prescribed to them. While this is dangerous to our health, the danger is more defined in pregnant women because some of the chemicals used in the drugs also affect the baby they are carrying.
I met 19-year-old Alice Nasiimbwa and her two-months-old baby in a taxi headed to Bwaise. When I jokingly made a comment about her looking too young to have a baby, she replied that it was by God’s grace.
“I almost lost the pregnancy at two months after taking drugs I had bought from a clinic in Wandegeya, she explained
Nasiimbwa went on to narrate how this happened. She thought she had taken medicine to relieve her headache, instead the situation turned bad a few minutes later.
“I was inside a boutique in Wandegeya, when I felt dizzy and a strong abdominal pain that forced me to sit on the verandah,” says Nasiimbwa.
She got a boda boda home when her condition did not improve. “On reaching home, I decided to rest but there was no improvement. My little sister who found me lying unconscious in the sitting room, called our aunt who took me to the nearest clinic,” she says.
When she gained consciousness, she says the consultant who had examined her had discovered a bloody discharge and asked her whether she was pregnant but she said no.
Nasiimbwa notes that the medic was not satisfied with her answer and he convinced her to take a pregnancy test, which was positive.
“I was shocked by the results and the doctor assumed that I had taken pills to abort and asked me to tell the truth,” Nasiimbwa recalls. She maintained that the only medicine she had taken was the painkillers.
The doctor then asked her to provide a sample of the drugs she had taken, and they later turned out to be tetracycline drugs. The doctor explained that the drugs were dangerous to expectant mothers since they can cause a miscarriage.
Like Nasiimbwa, several pregnant mothers self-medicate when they suffer what they consider mild ailments. However, some of these drugs that have not been prescribed can harm not just the expectant mothers but the babies they are carrying too.
For example, the drug Nasiimbwa took, tetracycline, is “hazardous to pregnant mothers because it can cause poor bone formation in the foetus and children below five years. This drug has different categories like minocycline, doxycycline, and ox tetracycline and others, which should be avoided,” Dr Ronald Kaddu, a gynaecologist at Kibuli Muslim Hosptial explains.
“Most of the drugs we take for treatment can be dangerous to pregnant women, especially in the first three-to-eight weeks of pregnancy,” the doctor says, adding that at this stage, organs are developing rapidly.
“Most of these drugs may contain teratogens which can interfere with the development process of the foetus, causing miscarriage or birth defects,” explains Dr Kaddu.
Dr David Ebalu of Community Lab and Clinic in Wabigalo further explains the effects of tetracycline: “Sometimes, the effect may be very serious, causing everlasting tooth discoloration and reduced growth of the fetous.”
Another category of drugs doctors advise against are gentamicin drugs, which Dr Kaddu says include streptomycin, aderan, anacin and vantin. “Such drugs cause damage to the kidneys referred to as neural toxicity.
They are also capable of producing toxins that damage the ears,” he says, adding that, “gentamycin drugs also cause psychiatric problems like anorexia, confusion, depression, disorientation and visual hallucinations to children.”
According to Dr Patrick Okodi at Queens Health Centre in Kisugu, gentamicin also causes nerve damage which can lead to hearing loss and body balance problem. Dr Okodi explains: “Streptomycin types of gentamicin cause numbness, unusual drowsiness, headache, vision loss and dizziness.
The symptoms can sometimes appear to all patients but are more prone to pregnant women and old people.” Warfarin drugs
Warfarin drugs are another category of drugs, which can harm pregnant women. This category includes drugs with coumadin and joventon. These are used to treat patients with deep vein thrombosis in order to prevent or reduce pulmonary embolism.
In regard to their effects to pregnant women, Dr Kaddu says: “warfarin drugs cause bleeding of the foetus since they are strong enough to penetrate the placenta. Drugs such as ciprofloxacin, fluoxetine, indinavir, ritonavir fluconazole, fluvoxamine and metronidazole have the same effect, he remarks.