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Use of metformin in pregnancy: a survey of Turkish physicians' attitudes/Gebelikte metformin kullanimi: Turk doktorlarin davranislarinin gozden gecirilmesi.


Metformin is a biguanide that is currently approved for treatment of type 2 diabetes. Metformin inhibits hepatic gluconeogenesis and increases the action of insulin in certain target organs and improves insulin sensitivity and hyperglycemia (1). Metformin use is associated with weight loss, improved lipid profile, and a small reduction in blood pressure (2,3). It is also useful in the treatment of insulin resistance and constitutes an increasingly popular treatment for polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Metformin facilitates conception in women who have oligomenorrhoea and PCOS (4).

Maternal hyperglycemia is associated with gestational weight gain, postpartum weight retention, and also with altered metabolic supplies from mother to fetus (5,6). Pregnancy is also associated with hyperinsulinemia (7). Although metformin use in pregnancy seems conceivable theoretically, it is still controversial. Despite early reports of adverse effects in those exposed to metformin (8,9), the growing number of data suggests that metformin is a safe choice of treatment in pregnant women with type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes and PCOS (10-12). Although metformin is currently classified by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) as a Category B drug for use in pregnancy, there is still no statement of Turkish Ministry of Health regarding the safety of metformin during pregnancy (4). In this study, we aimed to investigate the suggestions of physicians in different specialties in Turkey in terms of metformin use in pregnancy.

Materials and Methods

Current opinions of physicians were assessed by a questionnaire. Physicians were asked to fill in the questionnaire forms at national annual meetings of each specialty between January and December 2007. Questionnaire included four sections. The first section was concerned with the personal data of the physicians including age, sex and experience in current specialty and information about the hospitals they worked at. The second section questioned the opinions of the physicians regarding the use of metformin in pregnancy (in patients with PCOS, gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes). The third section, which was open-ended, questioned rationales of physicians who approved or disapproved of metformin use in pregnancy. In the last section, physicians were questioned whether they treated pregnant women with PCOS or type 2 or gestational diabetes in daily practice. Physicians were also asked to give themselves a score (1-10) considering their knowledge about PCOS and diabetes. Nine hundred forty physicians were invited to participate in the study (400 family physicians, 340 internists, 200 obstetricians). However, 421 physicians volunteered to attend the study. Fourteen subjects were excluded, as the questionnaires were not completely fulfilled. Finally, we were able to obtain questionnaires from 407 physicians (170 family physicians, 139 internists and 98 obstetricians). Twenty nine of internists had completed a subspecialty fellowship in endocrinology, or they were being fellows in endocrinology at the time they participated in the study.

Variable distributions were assessed by the Kolmogorov-Smirnov normality test. One way ANOVA or Kruskall-Wallis test were used (considering normality test result) to assess whether there was an overall difference between groups. Afterwards, one-way ANOVA with Bonferroni correction or Mann Whitney U test served as post hoc comparison tools, according to the variable distribution. Categorical variables were compared by the chi-square test. Statistical analysis was performed using Statistical Package of Social Science (SPSS), version 11.0 for Windows. Data were expressed as mean[+ or -]standard deviation (SD). A p value less than 0.05 was accepted as statistically significant.


Mean age and gender distribution of family physicians, internists and obstetricians are shown in Table 1. Obstetricians were older compared to family physicians and internists. There was no significant difference in gender distribution. Almost all obstetricians stated that they treated people with PCOS and/or diabetes throughout pregnancy. However, internists were less likely than obstetricians to treat pregnant women with PCOS and diabetes. Significant number of family physicians stated that they did not routinely treat pregnant women with PCOS and/or diabetes. The proportion of physicians suggesting the metformin use in pregnancy is shown in Table 1. Significant number of physicians in each specialty stated that they recommended metformin use in pregnancy. Obstetricians were more likely than other physicians to treat pregnant women with PCOS and diabetes. Metformin use in pregnancy was less common among internists.

One hundred fifty-one physicians (37.1%) stated that they recommended metformin use in pregnancy for any of the indications. Physicians in favor of metformin were older and more experienced when compared to those who did not approved of metformin during pregnancy. There was no significant difference in terms of gender and self-assessment scores of knowledge on PCOS and diabetes. The proportion of physicians regarding their employment region and area was similar (Table 2).

Rationales of physicians supporting the metformin use during pregnancy are shown in Table 3. Significant number of physicians believed that metformin treatment in pregnancy was associated with decreased risk of abortion, lower risk of fetal death, reduced prevalence of maternal and neonatal complications, improvement in insulin resistance, prevention of excess weight gain, better glycemic control in diabetics, and decreased insulin need in diabetics taking insulin. The main point for drawback was possible risk for congenital malformations. Significant number of physicians stated that they did not recommend metformin use in pregnancy because the Turkish Ministry of Health has not approved its use in pregnancy yet. Other reasons for avoiding metformin use in pregnancy were gastrointestinal side effects, possible risk for increased maternal and neonatal complications, prohibition of physiological weight gain in pregnancy, worse control of hyperglycemia in diabetics, and vitamin B deficiency (Table 4).


Our survey revealed that significant number of Turkish physicians in different specialties supported the metformin use in pregnancy, although the most current product monograph still lists pregnancy as a contraindication to use of metformin. Obstetricians were more likely to treat pregnant women with metformin. Lower risk for abortion, decreased prevalence of maternal and neonatal complications, improvement of insulin resistance, prevention of excess weight gain, better glycemic control in diabetics and decreased insulin need in diabetics taking insulin were brought forward as possible rationales by the physicians suggesting metformin use in pregnancy. The main points for drawback were possible risk for congenital malformations and the disapproval for pregnancy by the Turkish Ministry of Health.

Most of the physicians, who were against metformin use in pregnancy, recommended discontinuation once the pregnancy was confirmed, or before planning pregnancy because of concerns about risks to the fetus (11). Fetal concentrations of metformin in the range of half of maternal concentrations were demonstrated in cord blood of babies whose mothers took metformin during pregnancy, suggesting that significant amount of metformin can cross the placenta (12). Another study showed that cord levels of metformin may exceed maternal levels (13). Animal studies regarding teratogenicity of metformin showed controversial results. One study revealed that biguanides, phenformin and metformin were associated with embryo death, although metformin was observed to be less toxic than phenformin in mouse whole embryo culture (8). However, another study showed that metformin at doses similar to clinical in vivo levels had no direct toxic effects on mouse embryo development (14). Moreover, it has been reported that metformin induced a low incidence of malformations in rats and there was no evidence of teratogenicity at doses as high as 600 mg/kg daily (15). Human studies have reported no evidence regarding an increase in congenital anomaly rates in women treated with metformin (10,16-18). Two early studies showed lower infant morbidity and mortality rates in pregnant women with type 2 diabetes who were treated with metformin, compared to those who were treated with insulin (19,20). More recent studies also reported no evidence about the teratogenicity of metformin, which was suggested because of the similar risk of developing birth defects, similar fetal loss, pre-maturity and neonatal hypoglycemia rates and comparable birth weight percentiles (16,18,21). A recent meta-analysis regarding pregnancy outcome after first-trimester exposure to metformin showed a comparable malformation rate with that of the general population. The lower malformation rate in women treated with metformin compared to disease-matched controls raised the question that metformin treatment may prevent congenital malformations when used in the first trimester of pregnancy (11). Continuation of metformin in the first trimester was found not to be associated with an increase in congenital malformations or adverse fetal outcome (22). No difference in growth and motor-social development during the first 18 months of life was observed in children of women with PCOS who conceived while taking metformin, and continued taking it throughout their pregnancy (16).

As most of the experience regarding metformin use in pregnancy has been obtained from studies conducted in women with PCOS and the exposure was restricted to the first trimester, it is not surprising that more physicians supported the metformin use in the first trimester than in the 2nd and 3nd trimesters. Significant number of physicians who supported the metformin use in pregnancy stated that metformin use in the first trimester may be associated with a decreased incidence of miscarriage (21,23,24). On the other hand, studies reported favourable pregnancy outcomes in women who took metformin after the first trimester of pregnancy, or continued it throughout the pregnancy (16-19,25,26). A recent large well-controlled study, the MIG Trial, regarding metformin use in gestational diabetes may encourage physicians to prescribe metformin after the first trimester of pregnancy. Rowan et al. (27) showed that metformin (alone or with supplemental insulin) was not associated with increased perinatal complications as compared with insulin in women with gestational diabetes.

Although significant number of physicians attending this present study recommended the metformin use in pregnancy, it should be noted that we have questioned only their opinions, not prescription practices. Because metformin is still contraindicated in pregnancy according to current product monograph in Turkey, it is possible that physicians might not prescribe metformin, although they suggest its use in pregnancy.

In conclusion, despite increasing number of clinical data demonstrating that metformin treatment is safe in pregnancy, it is still not known whether metformin, which has been shown to cross the placenta, is therapeutic, or deleterious to the fetus. There is limited data on teratogenicity of metformin, but the risk seems to be low. Although Turkish physicians, especially obstetricians, seem to be in favor of using metformin in pregnancy, we believe that further data, also including animal models, are required before metformin becomes commonly prescribed during pregnancy.

Conflict of interest notification: None of the authors have a conflict of interest.


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Gebelikte Metformin Kullanimi: Turk Doktorlarin Davranislarinin Gozden Gecirilmesi

Address for Correspondence: Baris Akinci, MD, Division of Endocrinology of Metabolism, Department of Internal Medicine, Dokuz Eylul University Medical School, Inciralti, Izmir, Turkey 35340. Phone: +90 232 412 37 44 Fax: +90 232 279 22 67 E-mail: Recevied: 01.06.2009 Accepted: 07.07.2009

Turkish Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, published by Galenos Publishing. All rights reserved.

Baris Akinci, Pinar Tosun *, Emine Bekci *, Serkan Yener, Tevfik Demir, Sena Yesil

Dokuz Eylul University, Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Izmir, Turkey

* Dokuz Eylul University, Internal Medicine, Izmir, Turkey
Table 1. Characteristics of physicians of different specialties and
their opinions regarding metformin use in pregnancy for different
clinical settings

 Overall (n=407)

Age ([dagger]) ([double dagger]) 37.3 [+ or -] 8.24
Gender (male) 261 (64.1%)
Metformin use in PCOS * ([dagger]) 128 (31.4%)
Metformin use in GDM * 105 (25.8%)
Metformin use in DM-2 * ([dagger]) 139 (34.2%)
Treating PCOS in pregnancy 246 (60.4%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])
Treating diabetes in pregnancy 318 (78.1%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])

 Family physicians

Age ([dagger]) ([double dagger]) 36.54 [+ or -] 6.74
Gender (male) 11 (65.3%)
Metformin use in PCOS * ([dagger]) 59 (34.7%)
Metformin use in GDM * 53 (31.2%)
Metformin use in DM-2 * ([dagger]) 64 (37.6%)
Treating PCOS in pregnancy 70 (41.2%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])
Treating diabetes in pregnancy 110 (64.7%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])

 Internists (n=139)

Age ([dagger]) ([double dagger]) 36.3 [+ or -] 8.65
Gender (male) 84 (60.4%)
Metformin use in PCOS * ([dagger]) 24 (17.3%)
Metformin use in GDM * 24 (17.3%)
Metformin use in DM-2 * ([dagger]) 26 (18.7%)
Treating PCOS in pregnancy 82 (59%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])
Treating diabetes in pregnancy 113 (81.3%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])

 Obstetricians (n=98)

Age ([dagger]) ([double dagger]) 40.14 [+ or -] 9.36
Gender (male) 66 (67.3%)
Metformin use in PCOS * ([dagger]) 45 (45.9%)
Metformin use in GDM * 28 (28.6%)
Metformin use in DM-2 * ([dagger]) 50 (50%)
Treating PCOS in pregnancy 94 (95.9%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])
Treating diabetes in pregnancy 95 (96.9%)
 * ([dagger]) ([double dagger])

* Family physicians vs. internists, ([dagger]) obstetrician vs.
internist, ([double dagger]) family physicians vs. obstetricians;

Table 2. Comparison of features of physicians in favor of metformin
use in pregnancy and those who were against metformin use

 Physicians in favor of
 metformin use (n=151)

Age 38.89 [+ or -] 8.42
Gender (male) 99 (65.6%)
Years in current specialty 10.82 [+ or -] 8.03
Score of knowledge on PCOS 5.4 [+ or -] 2.83
Score of knowledge on diabetes 5.47 [+ or -] 2.66

Type of heath care center
Primary care 52 (34.4%)
State hospital 70 (46.4%)
Private clinic 10 (6.6%)
University hospital 19 (12.6%)

Marmara 38 (25.2%)
Aegean 36 (23.8%)
Central Anatolia 31 (20.5%)
Mediterranean 23 (15.2%)
Black-sea 11 (7.3%)
East and southeast 12 (7.9%)

Urban 112 (74.2%)
Rural 39 (25.8%)

 Physicians against
 metformin use (n=256) P value

Age 36.4 [+ or -] 7.99 0.003
Gender (male) 162 (63.3%) 0.67
Years in current specialty 7.58 [+ or -] 6.86 <0.001
Score of knowledge on PCOS 5.12 [+ or -] 2.76 0.332
Score of knowledge on diabetes 5.76 [+ or -] 2.49 0.274

Type of heath care center <0.001
Primary care 42 (16.4%)
State hospital 134 (52.3%)
Private clinic 30 (11.7%)
University hospital 50 (19.5%)

Region 0.561
Marmara 48 (18.8%)
Aegean 77 (30.1%)
Central Anatolia 57 (22.3%)
Mediterranean 32 (12.5%)
Black-sea 20 (7.8%)
East and southeast 22 (8.6%)

Area 0.27
Urban 203 (79.3%)
Rural 53 (20.7%)

Table 3. Rationales of physicians for metformin use in pregnancy

Total n=151 n %

Decreased risk of abortion 64 42.4
Decreased risk of fetal death 50 33.1
Decreased prevalence of maternal complications 41 27.2
Improvement on insulin resistance 101 66.9
Prevention of excess weight gain 81 53.6
Amelioration of glycemic control in diabetic subjects 68 45
Decreased insulin need in patients taking insulin 56 37.1
Decreased complications regarding newborn 39 25.8

Table 4. The main points for drawback of physicians who were
against metformin use in pregnancy

Total n=256 n %

May increase risk or congenital malformations 144 56.3
Not approved b the Turkish Health Ministry et 110 43
Gastrointestinal side effects 44 17.2
May increase maternal complications 21 8.2
May prohibit physiological weight gain 21 8.2
Not adequate to control hyperglycemia in diabetics 53 20.7
May increase complications regarding newborn 26 10.2
Vitamin B deficiency 17 6.6
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Article Details
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Author:Akinci, Baris; Tosun, Pinar; Bekci, Emine; Yener, Serkan; Demir, Tevfik; Yesil, Sena
Publication:Turkish Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism
Article Type:Survey
Geographic Code:7TURK
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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