Deciding to Use Medicine 471
Harmful uses of medicines
Medicines are used to fight dangerous illnesses, but medicines
have their own dangers. Used improperly, medicines can hurt
or even kill you. These are some common examples of ways
medicines can be misused in women’s health:
• Oxytocin, ergometrine, misoprostol, and methotrexate are sometimes misused
to hurry the birth of the baby or the afterbirth (placenta). This is dangerous.
These medicines can kill the woman and her baby. Unless you are a trained
health worker, use oxytocin and ergometrine only to stop heavy bleeding
AFTER childbirth. Also, do not use them to cause abortion. They may burst
(rupture) the womb and kill the woman before they cause an abortion.
• Women and girls sometimes try using dangerous medicines—such as aspirin,
malaria medicines, and ergometrine—to cause abortion. These medicines
almost never work. Instead of ending the pregnancy, some medicines can
cause serious problems, such as poisoning and death from too much medicine.
For more information on new medicines that can be used for safe abortion,
read the chapter on “Abortion,” page 239.
• Some women have died from using bromocriptine to stop the flow of breast
milk. Never take it. Your breast milk will dry up naturally when your baby
• In many places, women are encouraged to take medicines to calm their fears,
to improve their mood, or to help them sleep. But these problems are usually
caused by life’s difficulties. Most of the time, medicines will not make these
difficulties go away, and the cost can quickly use up a family’s money. If you
have difficulty getting through each day, see a trained mental health worker
before using a medicine for your nerves or mood.
• DES (diethylstilbestrol), a hormone, was used by women in Western Europe
and North America from 1941 to 1981 to prevent miscarriage. It is no longer
used because it can cause cancer of the cervix and vagina in girls and of the
testicles in boys whose mothers used it while pregnant. This medicine may still
be used in other places, such as parts of Africa and Latin America, to prevent
miscarriage and stop the flow of breast milk. Do not take this medicine.
• Some doctors prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for problems
during menopause. But HRT is known to increase women’s risk of breast
cancer, heart disease, blood clots, and stroke. It is better for a woman to avoid
using these medicines.
• Buying vitamins and minerals can be a waste of money, unless you have an
illness that will be helped by them. Nutritious food is cheaper and healthier
for the whole family. If possible, women who have weak blood (anemia) and
who are pregnant should take iron pills and folic acid. But injections of vitamin
B12 and liver extract do not help anemia—iron pills and good nutrition will do
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012