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Geneva, Switzerland, WHO, 1981. 76 p. (WHO Technical Report Series No. 657)This report on the effect of female sex hormones on fetal health and development aimed to evaluate research on the specific types of sex hormones and their uses, to determine their safety with respect to fetal development and infant health, and to recommend further research in these areas. Theoretically, sex hormones can affect any stage of fetal development. Sex hormones appear to act by promoting synthesis of messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) in target tissues, so that research should focus on the specific proteins formed under the direction of newly synthesized mRNA to elucidate potential morphological and physiological effects of exogenous hormones. Following are some research avenues: cytogenetic research, microscopic and macroscopic examination, observations on births and later life, animal teratology, and epidemiological studies. Epidemiological studies not only help elucidate causal associations but also provide public health data. Studies of sex hormones and fetal development and infant health must be free of bias and often suffer from problems of defining pregnancy outcome. Also sex steroids are frequently administered at the same time as other drugs, leading to confounding effects of drug interactions. In order to assess existing data, it is necessary to disaggregate the data from different reports and then to regroup them according to the indications for use, i.e., infertility, contraception, pregnancy testing, supportive therapy during pregnancy, contraception during pregnancy, contraception during breast feeding. Likewise data must be disaggregated according to different types of exposure, i.e., preconception or postconception. The bulk of this monograph is spent disaggregating study data based on the above-stated rationales. The following recommendations are made for indications for use of sex hormones: 1) they should not be used as pregnancy tests; 2) diethylstilbestrol should not be prescribed to a suspected pregnant woman; 3) benefits of progestin therapies must first be proven before they can be recommended for use in supporting pregnancy; 4) oral contraceptives given before pregnancy seem to have no effect on subsequent pregnancy; and during lactation combined therapy should not be given.