Pharmacokinetics of the most commonly used antihypertensive drugs throughout pregnancy methyldopa, labetalol, and nifedipine: a systematic review

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2022 Nov;78(11):1763-1776. doi: 10.1007/s00228-022-03382-3. Epub 2022 Sep 15.


Purpose: Antihypertensive drugs are among the most prescribed drugs during pregnancy. Methyldopa, labetalol, and nifedipine have been perceived safe to use during pregnancy and are therefore recommended in international guidelines for treatment of hypertension. In this review, we provide a complete overview of what is known on the pharmacokinetics (PK) of the antihypertensive drugs methyldopa, labetalol, and nifedipine throughout pregnancy.

Methods: A systematic search was performed to retrieve studies on the PK of methyldopa, labetalol, and nifedipine used throughout pregnancy. The search was restricted to English and original studies. The systematic search was conducted on July 27, 2021, in Embase, Medline Ovid, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Google Scholar. Keywords were methyldopa, labetalol, nifedipine, pharmacokinetics, pregnancy, and placenta.

Results: A total of 1459 unique references were identified of which title and abstract were screened. Based on this screening, 67 full-text papers were assessed, to retain 30 PK studies of which 2 described methyldopa, 12 labetalol, and 16 nifedipine. No fetal accumulation is found for any of the antihypertensive drugs studied.

Conclusion: We conclude that despite decades of prescribing methyldopa, labetalol, and nifedipine throughout pregnancy, descriptions of their PK during pregnancy are hampered by a large heterogeneity in the low number of available studies. Aiming for evidence-based and personalized dosing of antihypertensive medication in the future, further studies on the relationship of both PK and pharmacodynamics (including the optimal blood pressure targeting) during pregnancy and pregnancy-related pathology are urgently needed to prevent undertreatment, overtreatment, and side effects.

Keywords: Hypertension; Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; Labetalol; Methyldopa; Nifedipine; Pharmacokinetics; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension* / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / drug therapy
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced* / prevention & control
  • Labetalol* / therapeutic use
  • Methyldopa / therapeutic use
  • Nifedipine
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Cardiovascular* / prevention & control


  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Methyldopa
  • Nifedipine
  • Labetalol