Pregnant SLE Patients Discontinue Meds When They Shouldn't


Pregnant women with systemic lupus erythematosus often discontinue their lupus medications during pregnancy despite recommendations to continue them.

Pregnant SLE Patients Discontinue Meds When they Shouldn't


Recent evidence shows that pregnant women with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) often discontinue their lupus medications during pregnancy despite recommendations to continue them. 

The findings, reported by Mary A. De Vera, M.D., of the University of British Columbia, appear in the July 16 online issue of Lupus.

“Considering the patterns of medication use seen in this study, it appears that expectant mothers with SLE would benefit from having a discussion with their care providers about how to manage their disease during their pregnancy, which medications are safe to take, and which should be avoided,” the authors wrote. “Knowing medication use in pregnant women with SLE is key to understanding how to support patients with family planning and pregnancy decisions.”

Since lupus primarily affects women in their childbearing years, pregnancy can be a time fraught with risk and complications such as stillbirth, preterm labor and miscarriage. A significant portion of pregnant women with systemic lupus erythematosus will experience flares late in the pregnancy or after the birth.

While concerns over taking medications during pregnancy exist, it is recommended that women with lupus continue their antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine throughout gestation and during breast-feeding, according to GR de Jesus, et al. writing in the July 12, 2015 online issue of Autoimmune Diseases.

The authors of the Lupus study sought to characterize the frequency of use of anti-malarial drugs, immunosuppressants and other medications, before, during and after pregnancy with particular interest on discontinuation of antimalarials and immunosuppressants during pregnancy.


This was a population-based study of 284 women with systemic lupus erythematosus and 376 pregnancies. They were assessed for the discontinuation of antimalarials and immunosuppressants. Use of other lupus medications were also recorded.

Rates of antimalarial use and azathioprine during the study period were 33.2 percent and 11.4 percent respectively. The authors further found that 26.3 percent of pregnancies in lupus patients were exposed to glucocorticosteroids and 23.7 percent to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Pre-pregnancy antimalarial use stood at 36.2 percent, which dropped to 19.1 percent during the first trimester, 16.7 percent in the second, and held relatively steady at 17 percent in the third. Use rebounded to 31.1 percent after delivery.

Pre-Pregnancy azathioprine was used by 11.7 percent, which dropped to 6.6 percent in the first trimester, 6.4 percent during the second, 6.9 percent in the third and rose to 10.4 percent after delivery.

33.2 percent of patients were exposed to glucocorticosteroids before pregnancy, 14.9 percent in the first trimester, 13.3 percent in the second trimester, 19.7 percent  in the third trimester and 25.3 percent after delivery.  34.8 percent  were exposed to NSIADs before pregnancy and 19.1 percent after pregnancy.

Antimalarials were discontinued at a rate of 28.9 percent in the 12 months preceding pregnancy and 9.7 percent during pregnancy from the first trimester to the second and 26 percent from the second trimester to the third. Having had more children was associated with discontinuing antimalarials before pregnancy and time since lupus diagnosis was associated with higher odds of discontinuing antimalarials during pregnancy.

Azathioprine was discontinued at a rate of 29.2 percent before pregnancy, 8.0 percent from the first to the second trimester and 9.1 percent from the second to third.

Take-home points for clinicians and final thoughts

The high rates of discontinuation, in particular antimalarial treatment underscore the disconnect between the recommended treatment for lupus during pregnancy and the reality.

“As these findings conflict with the afore- mentioned recommendations regarding the continued use of antimalarials during SLE pregnancies, they suggest the importance of educating women with SLE who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant on the benefits and risks of medications during pregnancy,” the authors write.

Compliance is a serious concern. Strong evidence and concise recommendations are useless if patients are not following the treatment plan. The responsibility rests with the clinician to disseminate the knowledge pregnant women need to make the right choices about continuing their medication regimen when both systemic lupus erythematosus and pregnancy coincide.


Zusman, E. Z., Sayre, E. C., Aviña-Zubieta, J. A., & De Vera, M. A. (2019). “Patterns of medication use before, during and after pregnancy in women with systemic lupus erythematosus: a population-based cohort study.”Lupus. July 16, 2019

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