Accutane is one of the most infamous retinoids used to treat severe acne. Despite the fact that the drug was known to potentially cause severe birth defects, it was passed by the FDA for human use. Accutane may be the most widely known retinoid, but others do exist and continue to be used for a variety of skin conditions.
Retinoids fall into category X. This means retinoids or drugs containing retinoids should never be used during pregnancy. The most common side effects include mental retardation, facial deformities, and heart defects. Retinoids are not used solely for acne treatments, they can also be used to treat psoriasis and blood cancer. Doctors will typically require women of childbearing age to submit to a pregnancy test before starting a medication course and several times throughout the course. Most doctors recommend women taking birth control medication for at least one month after stopping treatment before trying to conceive.
Retinoids are present in the drugs Soriatane (acitrecin), Tegison (etretinate), Vesanoid (tretinoin), and Targretin (bexarotene). Several new retinoids drugs are in development for the treatment of cancer. Researchers have found retinoids alter cancer cell activity in the body. When under retinoid treatment, cancer cells act like normal, healthy cells, which could lead to remission.
While there is a viable reason for retinoid medications to be used by women, pregnancy is a constant threat. If retinoids, or retinoid-containing medications are suggested by a physician, women should ask about contraception to prevent pregnancy. Most often side effects linked to retinoids occur within the first 3 to 5 weeks after gestation. Most women have no idea they are pregnant and thus cannot stop the side effects from occurring once the pregnancy is confirmed.
Due to the overwhelming side effects associated with retinoids, the March of Dimes has started the iPledge program. Participants pledge to have negative pregnancy tests while taking retinoid, and other, medications.