Share this article on:

Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics of Drugs Commonly Used in Pregnancy and Parturition

Ansari, Jessica MD; Carvalho, Brendan MBBCh, FRCA, MDCH; Shafer, Steven L. MD; Flood, Pamela MD, MA

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000001143
Obstetric Anesthesiology: Review Article
Continuing Medical Education

The majority of pregnant women will be treated with a medication other than a vitamin supplement during their pregnancy. Almost half of these medications will be category C or D according to the former US Food and Drug Administration classification system, indicating a lack of human studies with animal studies suggesting adverse fetal effects (category C) or evidence of risk in humans (category D). Changes in maternal physiology alter drug bioavailability, distribution, clearance, and thus the drug half-life in often unpredictable ways. For many drugs, good pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic data in pregnancy and parturition are lacking. For other drugs, recent studies demonstrate major pharmacokinetic or pharmacodynamic changes that require dose adjustment in pregnancy, but current dosing guidelines do not reflect these data. In this review, we address the principles that underlie changes in pharmacology and physiology in pregnancy and provide information on drugs that anesthesiologists commonly encounter in treating pregnant patients.

From the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

Accepted for publication November 12, 2015.

Funding: Departmental.

The authors declare no conflicts of interests.

Reprints will not be available from the authors.

Address correspondence to Pamela Flood, MD, MA, Stanford University, 851 Indiana St., #504, San Francisco, CA 94107. Address e-mail to

© 2016 International Anesthesia Research Society