Purinethol and Pregnancy

Prior to taking Purinethol (mercaptopurine), women of childbearing potential should be aware of the potential risks this drug may pose to an unborn child. As a pregnancy Category D medicine, Purinethol may increase the risk for miscarriages, sterility, and other problems. Due to the risk of potentially serious complications, women are typically advised to use an effective form of birth control to avoid pregnancy during treatment.

Can Pregnant Women Take Purinethol?

Purinethol® (mercaptopurine) is a prescription medication approved for the treatment of a certain type of leukemia known as acute lymphatic leukemia. This product may be harmful to an unborn child if used during pregnancy, and is therefore considered a pregnancy Category D medication.

What Is Pregnancy Category D?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a category system to classify the possible risks to a fetus when a specific medicine is taken during pregnancy. Pregnancy Category D is a classification given to medicines that have been shown to present a risk to the fetus in studies of pregnant women, but may still offer benefits that outweigh the risks the drug presents.
A pregnancy Category D medicine may still be given to a pregnant woman if her healthcare provider believes that the benefits to the woman outweigh the possible risks to her unborn child.
Purinethol has not been adequately studied in pregnant women. However, there are reports of the medication being used by pregnant women. Based on these reports, women who receive Purinethol during the first trimester (the first three months of pregnancy) appear to have an increased risk for miscarriage. There have also been reports of reduced blood cell counts (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets) in newborns whose mothers took the medication during pregnancy.
In animal studies, female mice born to mothers given low doses of Purinethol throughout pregnancy were more likely to be sterile (not able to become pregnant) and more likely to have miscarriages if they did become pregnant. It is important to note, however, that animals do not always respond to medicines in the same way as humans. Up to this point, the drug has not been shown to cause the same problem in humans.
Because of the potential risks to an unborn child, this medication is generally not recommended for use in pregnant women. Women of childbearing potential should use an effective form of birth control to avoid becoming pregnant during Purinethol treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control options for your particular situation.
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