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Adverse effects of tocolytic therapy

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The rationale for using tocolytics in preterm labour is to enable transfer of the mother to a tertiary centre and to prolong pregnancy sufficiently so that glucocorticoids can be administered to the mother. There is little question that these short term objectives can be achieved with contemporary tocolytics. Whether tocolytics can maintain pregnancy for sufficient periods to enable in utero maturation to occur remains an unresolved question. When a decision is made to use tocolytics, the clinician is faced with a multitude of choices with side effects, efficacy and ease of administration generally being the most important considerations. Placebo-controlled studies suggest that the β-agonists, prostaglandin inhibitors and atosiban are effective in prolonging pregnancy for 24–48 hours. Of these three agents, atosiban has the best safety profile. There are no placebo-controlled studies with calcium channel blockers or nitric oxide donors. However, because of their ease of use and efficacy compared with the β-agonists, calcium channel blockers are widely used. Calcium channel blockers appear to have a better safety profile than the β-agonists, but there are still significant cardiovascular side effects associated with their use. Indomethacin, although proven to be efficacious, has a safety profile that limits its utility for other than short courses. Magnesium sulphate is the most commonly used tocolytic in the United States, despite a lack of evidence for its efficacy. Although magnesium sulphate appears to have a good safety profile, serious side effects have been reported with its use. The choice of tocolytics is commonly based on personal preference. Whichever tocolytic is chosen, the fundamental parturitional process is not reversed by contemporary treatment, rather a reduction in uterine response to a stimulant; thus, the expectations of tocolytic treatment need to be reconsidered.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-03-01

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