Definition - What does Tocolytic mean?

A tocolytic is a medicine used to suppress labor that has kicked in before the normal estimated due date (of 37 to 42 weeks). It helps postpone delivery, allowing time for the doctor to give medications to induce fetal lung maturity or to transport the pregnant woman to a tertiary care center.

FertilitySmarts explains Tocolytic

A baby born prematurely is at significant risk of lung abnormalities and breathing issues. Moreover, premature uterine contractions can cut off the blood supply to the baby, endangering its life. A tocolytic can stop uterine contractions and postpone delivery for up to 48–72 hours, restoring the blood supply to the baby. It also provides a time window during which the doctor can give medicines to cause the fetal lungs to mature, thus minimizing the risk of lung complications associated with premature delivery. Magnesium sulfate and terbutaline are the most common agents used as tocolytics. Many doctors use terbutaline if the odds of delivering before time are low. For women at high risk of premature delivery, magnesium sulfate is the treatment of choice, which also reduces the risk of cerebral palsy.

If the contractions stop, the doctor will taper and then stop the tocolytic. However, if contractions persist, the doctor may continue the tocolytic depending on the individual case. Meanwhile, the doctor may carry out a test to assess the maturity-status of the baby’s lungs. Tocolytics aren’t risk-free, so the benefits are weighed against the associated risks.

A tocolytic is best avoided if there is any obstetric or medical condition that opposes the need to prolong the pregnancy such as:

  • Premature rupture of membranes (PPROM)
  • Infection of the membranes surrounding the water bag
  • Premature separation of the placenta
  • Heart disease
  • Severe preeclampsia or eclampsia
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