Australian mums are being denied anti-nausea medication during pregnancy, new research shows

Picture: Getty Images
Picture: Getty Images 

Women experiencing severe nausea during pregnancy are being denied medications to help treat their debilitating symptoms, new research claims.

A study by Flinders University found pregnant women are being refused drugs by both medical practitioners and pharmacists, largely due to a lack of clear or concise clinical guidelines.

Interviewing 249 women who had experienced severe nausea (NVP) or hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) during their pregnancy, researchers found as many as a quarter had been denied medication. 

This was most prevalent among women who had sought the over-the-counter medication doxylamine at community pharmacists. 

Published in the journal ANZJOG to co-incide with tomorrow's International Hyperemesis Gravidarum Awareness day, the study's authors said a review of barriers to women accessing these treatments was 'urgently needed'. 

And called on the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) - who set regulations for medications - to revise current medication labelling laws, and consider introducing a similar system to that in the US, where packaging and leaflets detail evidence based information on both the risks and benefits of a drug.

Associate Professor Luke Grzeskowiak from Flinders University said many women they spoke to reported feeling as if they hadn't been taken seriously and that their symptoms had been 'trivialised'.

In one instance, a woman reported a pharmacist had refused to fill a script written by her obstetrician. 

"I would have a script and still be turned away for doxylamine and ondansetron because the chemist didn't believe it was ok to give a pregnant woman the medication," she told researchers.


Others admitted to sending in their husband to buy the drug or lie about being pregnant in order to access it. 

"Underlying explanations for women being denied access to medications can include a lack of provider awareness of clinical practice guidelines, misleading labelling produced by pharmaceutical manufacturers (e.g. most doxylamine packaging states not to use during pregnancy), or genuine concern or uncertainty regarding the fetal safety of specific medications with or without consideration of the benefits of treatment," he said. 

Co-author of the study and founder of Hyperemesis Australia, Caitlin Kay-Smith, agreed more awareness was needed.

"HG is a severe form of NVP and affects five-10% of pregnancies. Research shows that women with HG have a higher risk of negative maternal and fetal outcomes, but these possible harms are poorly recognised. This means that ensuring women have access to safe and effective treatments is really important," she argued.