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Understanding the Effects of DES (diethylstilbestrol)

DES (diethylstilbestrol) was given to more than a million pregnant women during the 1950's, 1960's and early 1970's. Doctors prescribed this drug because it was thought to prevent pregnancy complications such as hypertension, diabetes, pre-term labor, and miscarriage.

In the early 1970's it was discovered that DES did not indeed have these beneficial qualities and was, therefore, no longer prescribed for pregnant women. Unfortunately DES has been found to have lasting effects in the daughters of the women who took it.

The daughters of the women who took the drug have an increased risk of abnormalities of the reproductive tract. Up to two thirds of these women have an abnormally shaped uterus, defects in fallopian tubes, or structural abnormalities of the vagina or cervix. A rare type of cancer and changes in vaginal and cervical tissues have also been found in some women whose mothers took DES, although the risk is small. Other non-cancerous changes in the vagina and the cervix are also more common in DES - exposed women.

Once thought to cure pregnancy complications for those who took it, DES now causes in the daughters of those women some of the same complications it was intended to cure. DES-caused abnormalities in the cervix are believed to result in cervical incompetence, resulting for some in pre-term labor and miscarriage. In addition, abnormal fallopian tubes are a cause of infertility in some DES-exposed women. In others, the risk of ectopic pregnancy or a tubal pregnancy is increased.

The sons of women who took DES are also affected. DES sons are at a higher risk of testicular abnormalities and fertility problems.

If possible, check with your mother and see if she took DES when she was pregnant with you. If she did, talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor may want to monitor your pregnancy a bit more closely for any signs or symptoms. More frequent ultrasounds and certain other tests can greatly increase your chances of a more healthy pregnancy.

After your pregnancy, it's important for you to have regular examinations to check for abnormal changes in cervical or vaginal tissue. If identified early, these changes can be treated successfully.

There is currently no study that we could find that has any information about the granddaughters of the women that took DES and it's effect on them, but we will keep you posted.

Research continues on the effects of DES on third generation children. Studies are showing the risk of vaginal cancer may still be above average, but that third generation effects of in utero DES exposure are not likely.




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Cord Blood Registry
March of Dimes
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