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Greater care needed with contraception during isotretinoin use

Australian women being treated with isotretinoin for acne are urged to double up on contraception methods to avoid any risk of pregnancy. 

A recent Canadian study found that despite the known risks to a foetus from isotretinoin (e.g. Roaccutane), 1659 pregnancies were possibly exposed to the drug over a 15-year period.   

More than 1,000 of those pregnancies resulted in medically induced abortions and almost 300 terminated spontaneously. Of 118 potentially isotretinoin-exposed births, 11 infants were found to have congenital malformations.   

The study found less than a third of women were taking oral contraceptives despite the recommendation that two reliable forms of contraception should be used during and at least one month after treatment with isotretinoin.   

Melbourne dermatologist and spokesperson for All About Acne Dr Mei Tam said the findings were a timely reminder for young women seeking treatment for severe acne.   

“Isotretinoin is a very effective treatment for severe acne however women need to be aware of their responsibilities regarding its use.”   

“The Canadian study showed unacceptably high rates of unplanned pregnancies presumably because women were not consistent in their use of contraception.”   

“Unfortunately the consequences of these unplanned pregnancies - including terminations and babies with birth defects - are extremely serious.”     

Reference: Henry, D et.al. (2016) Occurrence of pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes during isotretinoin therapy. Journal of the Canadian Medical Association; 188 (10):723-30.

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