– Psoriasis often clears in pregnant women, giving them a rare break from the skin disease. But there still are plenty of reasons to pay close attention to psoriasis drugs in any women who is or could become pregnant.

Dr. Jashin J. Wu Bruce Jancin/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Jashin J. Wu

Data from 2011 found 45% of pregnancies in U.S. women aged 15-44 years were unintended (N Engl J Med. 2016 Mar 3;374[9]:843-52), cautioned Jashin J. Wu, MD, of Dermatology Research and Education Foundation, Irvine, Calif.

In a presentation at the Skin Disease Education Foundation’s Women’s & Pediatric Dermatology Seminar, Dr. Wu offered these tips about pregnancy and psoriasis:

Counsel patients before pregnancy

There’s conflicting data about the risks of psoriasis in pregnancy, Dr. Wu said. One 23-year-old study suggests a link to adverse outcomes such as preterm and low-birth-weight babies. But another more recent study found no sign of increased risk (Int J Dermatol. 1996;35:169-72; J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;64:71-7).

Counseling can include information about risks such as hospitalization during pregnancy because of undertreatment of psoriasis, he said. Discuss lowering medication doses to the lowest effective dose, he recommended, and talk about alternatives to systemic medications.

Make adjustments to timing as needed

In patients with severe cases, it may be appropriate to recommend that they postpone pregnancy until their psoriasis is under better control. As for treatment of psoriasis, “you may want to consider timing medication to end around the first trimester to get the medication out of them during the greatest risk period for the baby,” Dr. Wu said.

Adjust steroids as necessary

There are no “good” studies about the use of steroids in pregnant women with psoriasis, Dr. Wu said. “We can probably assume they are safe overall. Weaker steroids may have less risk,” and some of the stronger steroids may raise concerns.

Dr. Wu made these recommendations: Limit mild-potency topical corticosteroids to less than 100 g/week, potent topical corticosteroids to less than 50 g/week, and superpotent topical corticosteroids to less than 30 g/week.

Some topical drugs appear to be OK

Vitamin D analogues have not been well-studied in pregnancy, he said, but “we consider topical use to be fairly safe.”

There’s no data on calcineurin inhibitors in pregnancy, he said, but topical use is considered to be safe because there’s limited systemic absorption.

Beware of certain drugs in pregnancyTazarotene is considered to be dangerous in pregnancy, Dr. Wu said, and females of childbearing age who take it should use effective contraception, and have a recent negative pregnancy test (within 2 weeks before treatment begins). “In general, I’d probably not use this,” he said. “We have so many other options.”

Data about pregnancy safety for three topical drugs – coal tar, anthralin, and salicylic acid – is limited or nonexistent, Dr. Wu said, and he recommends against their use in pregnancy.

Phototherapy is OK in pregnancy

Phototherapy is considered safe because UVB doesn’t penetrate the superficial layer of the skin, he said. But phototherapy brings a potential risk of lowered folic acid levels, and he urges folic acid supplementation in women undergoing the treatment who are considering pregnancy or who are in the first trimester.

Avoid certain systemic drugs

Dr. Wu offered these recommendations:

  • Methotrexate: Do not take during pregnancy, or 3 months prior to conception.
  • Acitretin (Soriatane): Avoid all use in women who may become pregnant.
  • Cyclosporine: Be aware of reports of prematurity and low birth weight linked to the drug.
  • Apremilast (Otezla): Animal studies have shown a risk in pregnancy. Stop the drug at least 2 days before conception.

Avoid monoclonal antibodies

These drugs “result in therapeutic levels in the fetus, which is not a good thing,” Dr. Wu said. “You obviously don’t want to have monoclonal antibodies in the baby.”

Nix the PUVA

While one study found no link between psoralen plus UVA (PUVA) and birth defects (Arch Dermatol. 1993 Mar;129[3]:320-3), there’s still a theoretical risk, Dr. Wu said. He recommended that the treatment be avoided during pregnancy.

Watch for waxing and waning

Dr. Wu pointed to a small 2005 study that suggested that psoriasis activity declines during pregnancy. The study used different measures, finding that psoriasis improved by 30% (based on at least a 3% change in body surface area) or 55% (based on patient self-reporting). But it flares after pregnancy as reported by 65% of women surveyed; a body surface area analysis found that psoriasis worsened in 41% (Arch Dermatol. 2005 May;141[5]:601-6).

Dr. Wu reports various relationships (research, consultation and speaking) with 15 pharmaceutical companies. SDEF and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.