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Nifedipine for Preterm Labor

Examples

Generic NameBrand Name
nifedipine Procardia

Nifedipine is sometimes used as a tocolytic medicine during preterm labor to slow uterine contractions. Nifedipine is taken only by mouth (orally) as a tablet or capsule.

Nifedipine, a calcium channel blocker, is more commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease.

How It Works

Smooth muscle tissue, like the uterus, needs calcium to contract. Nifedipine blocks the passage of calcium into certain tissues, relaxing the uterine muscles and smooth muscles of blood vessels throughout the body.

Why It Is Used

Nifedipine is used to treat preterm labor when:

  • Regular contractions of the uterus have thinned (effaced) the cervix and opened (dilated) it less than 4 cm, and the mother's amniotic sac has not broken.
  • The mother is healthy.
  • The fetus is alive and not in distress.
  • Labor needs to be delayed for 24 to 48 hours. This delay is typically needed with corticosteroid treatment to help fetal lungs mature. Sometimes labor is delayed so the mother can be moved to a hospital with special facilities for treating premature infants.
  • Beta-sympathetic medicines (such as terbutaline) have not stopped uterine contractions.
  • Treatment with other tocolytic medicines was stopped because of side effects.

How Well It Works

Small studies so far show that nifedipine may work better than other drugs to slow or stop preterm labor, with fewer problems for newborns.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Constipation or diarrhea.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Flushing or feeling warm.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

When you are pregnant or breast-feeding, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Haas DM (2011). Preterm birth, search date June 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine
Last Revised July 17, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.

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