Can You Take Ultracet While Pregnant?
Can you take Ultracet while pregnant? This may be a question women have if they’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant. The answer falls into somewhat of a gray area, but for the most part, taking Ultracet while pregnant is not advisable. Ultracet is a brand-name medication used to treat moderate to severe pain. Ultracet is a combination of two active ingredients — tramadol and acetaminophen. Tramadol is an opioid. Opioids are also called narcotics. Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter pain medication used in brand-name drugs like Tylenol. When an opioid is combined with something like acetaminophen, it fights pain in two different ways, improving the overall effectiveness. Tramadol acts as other opioids do, by affecting the central nervous system. Tramadol slows the central nervous system and, as a result, can also slow breathing and heart rate. Taking more Ultracet than prescribed can lead to severe breathing problems, overdose or death. Acetaminophen can also be harmful if large doses are taken. Large doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage or liver failure.
The use of Ultracet and other opioid medications can lead to addiction and dependence as well. Opioids bind to certain receptor sites found throughout the brain and central nervous system. In doing so, they can create feelings of euphoria. These euphoric feelings can then trigger a reward response in the brain, which can then lead to addiction. Dependence is separate from addiction to Ultracet. Dependence is a physical situation where someone’s brain and body become dependent on the presence of opioids. If someone is dependent on Ultracet and they stop cold turkey, they may go through withdrawal. Opioid withdrawal can be severe in some cases. Even though Ultracet is a controlled substance only intended for use in specific situations, it is a drug of misuse. In some instances, Ultracet is diverted from medical use or is used outside of prescribing guidelines.
So, can you take Ultracet while pregnant? Ultracet’s active ingredients are in two separate FDA pregnancy categories. Tramadol is a category C drug, while acetaminophen is a category B drug throughout each trimester of pregnancy. The FDA created categories based on presently available research to indicate the possible safety or risks of taking drugs while pregnant. Category A drugs are the safest to use during pregnancy. Looking at the available research, category A drugs haven’t shown harm in animal or human studies if they’re used during pregnancy. Category B drugs are considered fairly safe as well. Category C drugs have shown they have the potential for harm to a fetus in animal studies. Category C drugs typically don’t have any well-controlled human studies assessing their safety or risks. With a category C drug like tramadol, doctors will weigh possible risks and benefits before prescribing them to a pregnant woman.
Since Ultracet, or at least tramadol, is a category C drug during pregnancy, potential risks have been demonstrated in animal studies. The CDC reports the use of opioids during pregnancy can increase the risk of a baby being born with neural tube defects. Neural tube defects can include spina bifida. This is especially true if opioids are used during the first trimester when most fetal development is occurring. The CDC also links the use of opioids like Ultracet to a higher risk of hydrocephaly, gastroschisis and congenital heart defects. This doesn’t mean that a baby exposed to opioids will definitely develop these birth defects, but some evidence does show an increased risk. There may also be a higher likelihood of miscarriage or stillbirth associated with the use of opioids during pregnancy. While acetaminophen is considered for the most part a safe drug during pregnancy, there are also slight risks associated with its use as well. For example, there is growing research showing the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy can increase the likelihood of ADHD, asthma and autism symptoms developing. However, the risk is still very low.
As well as an increased risk of certain birth defects, babies exposed to Ultracet in the womb may become dependent on it. This is similar to what happens if an adult takes Ultracet for a prolonged period. If a baby is born dependent on Ultracet, they will experience withdrawal symptoms after delivery. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS. NAS can be severe in some cases and often requires the baby to spend time in the NICU to receive treatment. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal in newborns can include problems with eating and sleeping. Other symptoms may include fussiness, irritability, trouble gaining weight and failure to thrive.
There are alternatives to taking Ultracet while pregnant. A healthcare provider will likely recommend non-opioid medications during pregnancy if at all possible. The only case where a healthcare provider would prescribe Ultracet to a pregnant woman will be if the possible benefits of the drug outweigh the risks in that specific situation. If a woman is recreationally using Ultracet and finds out she’s pregnant, she should still speak to her doctor. It’s important not to stop Ultracet suddenly because there can be complications related to opioid withdrawal. A doctor will likely advise a pregnant woman to gradually taper her recreational usage of Ultracet while pregnant to avoid complications. Some pregnant women who have been taking opioids may find benefits with a supervised detox program as well as an addiction treatment program.
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