Pharmacokinetics of antimalarials in pregnancy: a systematic review

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2011 Nov 1;50(11):705-23. doi: 10.2165/11594550-000000000-00000.


Malaria is a serious parasitic infection, which affects millions of people worldwide. As pregnancy has been shown to alter the pharmacokinetics of many medications, the efficacy and safety of antimalarial drug regimens may be compromised in pregnant women. The objective of this review is to systematically review published literature on the pharmacokinetics of antimalarial agents in pregnant women. A search of MEDLINE (1948-May 2011), EMBASE (1980-May 2011), International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (1970-May 2011), Google and Google Scholar was conducted for articles describing the pharmacokinetics of antimalarials in pregnancy (and supplemented by a bibliographic review of all relevant articles); all identified studies were summarized and evaluated according to the level of evidence, based on the classification system developed by the US Preventive Services Task Force. Identified articles were included in the review if the study had at least one group that reported at least one pharmacokinetic parameter of interest in pregnant women. Articles were excluded from the review if no pharmacokinetic information was reported or if both pregnant and non-pregnant women were analysed within the same group. For quinine and its metabolites, there were three articles (one level II-1 and two level III); for artemisinin compounds, two articles (both level III); for lumefantrine, two articles (both level III); for atovaquone, two articles (both level III); for proguanil, three articles (one level II-1 and two level III); for sulfadoxine, three articles (all level II-1); for pyrimethamine, three articles (all level II-1); for chloroquine and its metabolite, four articles (three level II-1 and one level II-3); for mefloquine, two articles (one level II-1 and one level III); and for azithromycin, two articles (one level II-1 and one level III). Although comparative trials were identified, most of these studies were descriptive and classified as level III evidence. The main findings showed that pharmacokinetic parameters are commonly altered in pregnancy for the majority of recommended agents. Importantly, first-line regimens of artemisinin-based compounds, lumefantrine, chloroquine and pyrimethamine/sulfadoxine may undergo significant changes that could decrease therapeutic efficacy. These changes are usually due to increases in the apparent oral clearance and volume of distribution that commonly occur in pregnant women, and may result in decreased exposure and increased therapeutic failure. In order to assess the clinical implications of these changes and to provide safe and effective dosage regimens, there is an immediate need for dose-optimization studies of all recommended first- and second-line agents used in pregnant women with malaria.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antimalarials / pharmacokinetics*
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Artemisinins / pharmacokinetics
  • Artemisinins / therapeutic use
  • Atovaquone / pharmacokinetics
  • Atovaquone / therapeutic use
  • Chloroquine / pharmacokinetics
  • Chloroquine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Ethanolamines / pharmacokinetics
  • Ethanolamines / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Fluorenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Fluorenes / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lumefantrine
  • Malaria / complications
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Mefloquine / pharmacokinetics
  • Mefloquine / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy / metabolism
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / metabolism*
  • Proguanil / pharmacokinetics
  • Proguanil / therapeutic use
  • Pyrimethamine / administration & dosage
  • Pyrimethamine / pharmacokinetics
  • Pyrimethamine / therapeutic use
  • Quinine / pharmacokinetics
  • Quinine / therapeutic use
  • Sulfadoxine / administration & dosage
  • Sulfadoxine / pharmacokinetics
  • Sulfadoxine / therapeutic use


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antimalarials
  • Artemisinins
  • Ethanolamines
  • Fluorenes
  • Sulfadoxine
  • Chloroquine
  • artemisinin
  • Quinine
  • Lumefantrine
  • Proguanil
  • Mefloquine
  • Atovaquone
  • Pyrimethamine