Definition - What does Diethylstilbestrol (DES) mean?
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a synthetic form of the estrogen hormone, once prescribed as fertility medication. In 1971, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared DES unsafe, and a law was made banning it from the United States. However, between the years 1936-1971 between 5-10 million pregnant mothers and their unborn children were exposed to the drug. Those individuals may experience, or have experienced, health complications as a result of the exposure.
FertilitySmarts explains Diethylstilbestrol (DES)
In the 1930’s, the primary theory on the cause of miscarriages was a lack of estrogen present in a woman’s body. Doctors prescribed DES in hopes of increasing a woman’s chances of carrying a pregnancy to term. However, by the 1960s, medical studies began to demonstrate that DES was a harmful substance.
Today, science shows that women who took DES while pregnant are at an increased risk for several health conditions, including breast cancer. Additionally, children exposed to DES in utero are at risk for numerous health complications, specifically conditions with their reproductive health.
Woman exposed as fetuses are at risk of certain cancers of the vagina and cervix, abnormally shaped reproductive organs, or experiencing infertility conditions such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, premature birth, or preeclampsia. Women who know they were exposed to DES should be aware of the risk for health complications, particularly surrounded reproduction, and communicate with their medical team regarding the exposure. Treatment for the exposure varies based on the specific conditions present in each case.
The health complications are more pronounced and proven in women exposed in utero, however some men exposed in utero have reported minor health concerns, such as undescended testicles, which may also be caused by the exposure.