The Impact of Pregnancy on Antihypertensive Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics: Current Status and Future Directions

Expert Opin Drug Metab Toxicol. 2021 Nov;17(11):1261-1279. doi: 10.1080/17425255.2021.2002845.


Introduction: Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (HDP) are rising in prevalence, and increase risk of adverse maternal and fetal outcomes. Physiologic changes occur during pregnancy that alter drug pharmacokinetics. However, antihypertensive drugs lack pregnancy-specific dosing recommendations due to critical knowledge gaps surrounding the extent of gestational changes in antihypertensive drug pharmacokinetics and underlying mechanisms.

Areas covered: This review (1) summarizes currently recommended medications and dosing strategies for non-emergent HDP treatment, (2) reviews and synthesizes existing literature identified via a comprehensive PubMed search evaluating gestational changes in the maternal pharmacokinetics of commonly prescribed HDP drugs (notably labetalol and nifedipine), and (3) offers insight into the metabolism and clearance mechanisms underlying altered HDP drug pharmacokinetics during pregnancy. Remaining knowledge gaps and future research directions are summarized.

Expert opinion: A series of small pharmacokinetic studies illustrate higher oral clearance of labetalol and nifedipine during pregnancy. Pharmacokinetic modeling and preclinical studies suggest these effects are likely due to pregnancy-associated increases in hepatic UGT1A1- and CYP3A4-mediated first-pass metabolism and lower bioavailability. Accordingly, higher and/or more frequent doses may be needed to lower blood pressure during pregnancy. Future research is needed to address various evidence gaps and inform the development of more precise antihypertensive drug dosing strategies.

Keywords: Hypertension; hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; labetalol; nifedipine; oral antihypertensives; pharmacokinetics; pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antihypertensive Agents*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / drug therapy
  • Labetalol*
  • Nifedipine
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Pregnancy


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Nifedipine
  • Labetalol