Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Kinds of Medicines

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HealthWiki > Where Women Have No Doctor > Chapter 31: Use of Medicines in Women's Health > Kinds of Medicines


Different medicines are used to treat different problems. Some cure the problem itself and others relieve only the signs of the problem. Sometimes you cannot take the best medicine for your problem because:

  • it is not available where you live.
  • it is not safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • you are allergic to it.
  • it no longer works where you live, because of drug resistance (see box below).

When this happens, you can substitute one medicine for another, but only if you are sure it will work. The treatments we recommend in this book often give you choices if for some reason you cannot use the best medicine. If you are unsure of what medicines to take, talk to a health worker.

Medicines for heavy bleeding from the vagina after birth or abortion

a woman lying with her eyes closed after bleeding heavily from the vagina

Ergometrine, oxytocin, and misoprostol are medicines that cause contractions of the womb and its blood vessels. They are important medicines to control heavy bleeding after childbirth.

Ergometrine is used to prevent or control severe bleeding after the placenta has come out. Do not inject ergometrine into the vein (IV). It should be injected into a large muscle. Never give this medicine before the baby is born or the placenta has come out! Do not give this medicine to a woman with high blood pressure.

Oxytocin is used to help stop severe bleeding of the mother after the baby is born. It is very rare for oxytocin to be needed before the baby is born. For this purpose, it should only be given in the vein by a doctor or trained birth attendant. Using oxytocin to speed up labor or give strength to the mother in labor can be dangerous to both mother and child.

Misoprostol was developed to stop bleeding from stomach ulcers, but it is also used to stop bleeding after birth or abortion. It is inexpensive and pills can be taken by mouth or inserted into the rectum.

Medicines for allergic reactions

A person can be allergic to medicines, foods, or things that are breathed in or touched. Reactions may be mild—with itching, hives or rash, or sneezing—or they can be moderate or severe. Some reactions can worsen and bring on allergic shock. Severe reactions and allergic shock can be life-threatening and must be treated.

In this book, we talk about how some medicines may cause allergic reactions. Any medicine that causes an allergic reaction should be stopped and never given again—even if the reaction was mild.

Depending on how strong the reaction is, allergic reactions are treated with 1, 2, or 3 kinds of medicines:

  1. Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine, or promethazine. None of these medicines are good for pregnant or breastfeeding women, but promethazine is the least dangerous of them. Otherwise diphenhydramine is usually the cheapest and most widely available.
  2. Steroids, like dexamethasone or hydrocortisone. Dexamethasone is a better choice for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
  3. Epinephrine or adrenaline. These medicines are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
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