Is Voltarol safe in pregnancy?

Expert guidance on the risks of taking the painkiller Voltarol when you're expecting a baby

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In a nutshell

It’s complicated – generally avoid and get a doctor’s advice

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The expert view

Suffering from sciatica or back pain? It may be tempting to reach for a pain gel such as Voltarol, or think about popping a pill, but be wary of these remedies without a doctor’s advice.

Voltarol contains an ingredient called diclofenac, which works by blocking the production of certain chemicals in the body which cause pain and inflammation.

“Diclofenac is in the same class of medication as ibuprofen – non-steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDs),” explains MFM’s GP Dr Philippa Kaye. “These are generally not used during pregnancy due to risks to the foetus though are occasionally used in the first or second trimesters under doctors’ advice. They are not used in the third trimester. This caution is because use in the third trimester can cause cardiac complications in the newborn.”

Although using the gel means that far less of the diclofenac is absorbed into the bloodstream than if taking tablets, it still enters your system – and could cause a few issues, especially later on in pregnancy.

“It may be safer to avoid gels in the third trimester as well,” cautions Dr Kaye.

In the third trimester diclofenac may:

  • delay labour
  • increase the length of labour
  • cause complications in the newborn baby

A Norwegian study also found a risk of vaginal bleeding when diclofenac was used in the third trimester, and low birth weight when used in the second trimester.

But, there’s no conclusive evidence out there that the medicine will cause problems for the baby, according to the UK Teratology Information Service, which examines the toxicity of drugs in pregnancy.

And Dr Kaye points out that despite the advice against using NSAIDs in pregnancy, “this does not mean that you have to suffer with pain when you are pregnant”.

“Speak to your doctor who will be able to advise and prescribe safe medication in pregnancy,” she urges.

Mums on our forum say

“I have had a very bad back for about the last 3 weeks, I’m 14 weeks now. The doctor, midwife and nurses at told me to use a wheat bag or hot water bottle.” princessAntonia

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“I have pulled my trapezius muscle in my left side so have terrible pain in my shoulder and neck, it’s caused by posture and has got worse now he has dropped. I’m allowed paracetamol and a wheat bag! Absolute agony! But a wheat bag much better relief than a hot water bottle.” Dylansmummy

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