Why Do Doctors Still Use Terbutaline to Delay Preterm Labor Despite Its Major Health Risks?


Why would medical doctors continue to use terbutaline in preterm labor therapy when many children result in a serious neurological dysfunction long-term? Where are the resources for the children and parents of these children who are severely disabled all of their lives because of this therapy?


Terbutaline is primarily used when doctors need to delay birth for several hours or days in order to allow the child to mature more before being born. The drug can delay labor for up to 48 hours, and since 2011, the FDA has advised that injectable terbutaline should only be used in urgent situations, and that the oral form of the drug should never be used to treat preterm labor due to ineffectiveness and high risk factors.

Injectable terbutaline can only be administered by medical professionals in hospitals, but there are serious risks associated with the drug. For mothers, these include racing heartbeat, skin flushing, tremors, and restlessness. Additionally, pregnant women may suffer from irregular heartbeats, pulmonary edemas, and chest pain. Risks for babies include temporary increase in heart rate and blood sugar levels. Terbutaline is commonly used in concurrence with other drugs to help a baby’s lungs mature faster, but the results are not always consistent.

Some studies have shown that terbutaline actually increases risk to the developing fetus instead of helping, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has discouraged its use. This research continues to be funded, so hopefully future findings will urge more medical communities not to use terbutaline. Analyzing and raising awareness about the potential harm terbutaline can have on mothers and their babies will provide both doctors and expectant mothers with more information about other options, as well as tools for how to deal with negative effects of the drug.

Because the information about terbutaline’s adverse effects is emerging, many obstetricians and healthcare providers have not yet transitioned out of using it to delay preterm labor. Some of the best resources for caring for those affected negatively by terbutaline are studies done by medical professionals and scholars analyzing the effect of the drug on child development. As more information becomes available about the drug, we can continue to raise awareness about its harm and turn towards safer options for both mothers and their babies.

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