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Fall 2011 Table of Contents


BU research in brief

Medication Use by Pregnant
Women Climbs
Antidepressants, over-the-counter drugs top list in BU report By Susan Seligson. Illustration by James Yang

Most pregnant women today know that using tobacco and drinking alcohol is risky to their fetus, and they avoid these substances. But researchers at BU’s Slone Epidemiology Center have found that an increasing number of pregnant women are taking both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Their study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, also found that medication use varied considerably by women’s socioeconomic status, age, ethnicity, and where they lived, with older and more educated women more likely to use medication.

Slone Center director and study lead investigator Allen Mitchell, a School of Public Health professor of epidemiology and a School of Medicine professor of pediatrics, says the study raises concerns that pregnant women may unknowingly take medication that could pose a risk to the fetus or might be discouraged from taking medically useful medications that are relatively safe. Mitchell says the study strongly suggests that more information is needed on the risks and safety of the vast majority of commonly used medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

Done in collaboration with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Harvard School of Public Health, the research analyzed 35 years of interviews with 32,700 women who gave birth, to both infants with birth defects and infants without birth defects, and identified their use of medications during pregnancy. The researchers found that in 2008, nearly half the women interviewed reported taking at least one prescription medication during their first trimester, a 60 percent increase in the more than three decades, and 70 to 80 percent were taking over-the-counter medications.

In the 35 years since the study began, the use of four or more medications during the first trimester tripled, an increase attributable in part to the dramatic rise of SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants such as Prozac.

Combat Stress: Women as
Resilient as Men
BU study is the first of its kind By Rich Barlow. Illustration by James Yang

War is hell, but women soldiers may be no more vulnerable to its stresses than men. That’s the conclusion of a study of veterans returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, led by the School of Medicine.

The researchers, whose findings differ from broader studies suggesting females have a heightened vulnerability to trauma, surveyed 340 women and 252 men who had returned from deployment within the previous year, quizzing them about any symptoms of depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mental health impairment.

“While women are still officially barred from direct ground combat positions in the U.S. military, they serve in a variety of positions that put them at risk for combat exposure,” the researchers write in their paper, which appeared online in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. “Women’s risk for combat is compounded by the enemy’s increased use of guerrilla warfare tactics in recent wars. As of 2009, more than 750 women had been wounded or killed in action” during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes the Afghanistan war and some other anti-terrorism efforts.

“Regardless of the cause,” the study concludes, “these findings have substantial implications for military policy, as they call into question the commonly held belief that women may be more vulnerable to the negative effects of combat exposure than men.” A congressionally created commission has recommended ending the ban on women in combat.

Dawne Vogt, a MED associate professor of psychiatry and a researcher at the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the VA Boston Healthcare System, was the study's lead author; among the coauthors are School of Public Health researchers Mark Glickman, Susan Eisen, Rani Elwy, and Mari-Lynn Drainoni.

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