Since the 1990s, under the advice of their physicians, one in 10 pregnant women have been painfully injecting themselves in the stomach with a needle containing anticoagulant medicine that has now been found to be completely ineffective.
For the treatment of thrombophilia, abnormal blood clotting in the veins or arteries, 10 percent of women have been prescribed the anticoagulant low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) to prevent pregnancy complications caused by placenta blood clots, according to the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
Research conducted by Dr. Marc Rodger, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute who heads up the Thrombosis Program at the Ottawa Hospital, proves that LMWH is completely ineffective and may even cause “minor” harm to pregnant women.
Dr. Roger’s study will be published in a future print issue of The Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journals. The journal will detail research that involved 12 years of clinical trials and nearly 300 women in five different countries.
His experiment discovered that pregnant women who injected LMWH into their stomachs received “no positive benefits for the mother or child” and instead, in some cases, harmed the pregnancy by increasing the rates of induced labor, increasing bleeding and reducing patient’s access to anesthesia during childbirth.
“These results mean that many women around the world can save themselves a lot of unnecessary pain during pregnancy,” said Dr. Rodger, who is also a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.
“Using low molecular weight heparin unnecessarily medicalizes a woman’s pregnancy and is costly.”
Pregnant women unnecessarily stabbed their stomachs with needles, some of them on a daily basis
The pregnant women unfortunate enough to have been prescribed LMWH suffered physical and emotional trauma.
Allison McIntosh, a 34-year-old lawyer with the Department of Justice in Ottawa, was one of thousands of women who were told that injecting LMWH during her pregnancy would increase her chances of carrying a child to term.
McIntosh, who had suffered from two prior miscarriages, was hopeful that LMWH injections would help her third pregnancy, so she spent two-and-a-half months pricking herself with a needle every day, only for the medicine to fail, resulting in a third miscarriage.
“It was difficult after realizing that the injections didn’t work,” said McIntosh.
“I thought that I was doing something to make a difference by giving myself the injections. I kind of lost hope after that experience.”
McIntosh didn’t give up, and she got pregnant a fourth time, this time foregoing LMWH treatments. When she heard about Dr. Roger’s research, she wasn’t surprised that the drug failed her.
“I feel sad for other people who are going through that process,” said McIntosh, who is now six months along in her latest pregnancy. “It can be disillusioning for people if those injections are their only hope.”
Amy Mills, a 35-year-old mother of two young children from Bancroft, Ontario, participated in Dr. Roger’s study after finding out she was prone to developing blood clots.
Mills gave herself more than 400 needles full of the anticoagulant medication, often twice a day throughout her pregnancy, which resulted in pain and severe abdominal bruising.
“It hurt each and every time I injected myself,” said Mills.
“Most women are proud to show their pregnancy belly, but not me. There was so much bruising I had to keep covered up,” she admitted.
“Dr. Rodger’s findings will benefit many women in many countries who will be spared from hundreds of unnecessary and painful injections,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, chief executive officer and scientific director of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.
“They also underscore the importance of conducting rigorous, well-designed clinical trials, something we pride ourselves on at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute,” added Dr. Stewart, who is also vice-president of research at the Ottawa Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa.