Hormones play a fundamental role in the functioning of the organism. One of them, oxytocin, has functions related to the moment of childbirth.
However, oxytocin is involved in a multitude of very important organic processes. In view of its importance, medical science has used it in several procedures.
In this post, it will be very didactic to analyze what oxytocin is, how it acts in the body and how it is used in medicine.
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what is oxytocin?
- Formula: C43H66N12O12S2
- Molar mass: 1,007.19 g/mol
- CAS Number: 50-56-6
- Boiling point: 1,533 °C
- Trade name: Pitocin
- Half-life: 1-6 min
- Metabolism: hepatic oxytocin kinases
Oxytocin is a hormone that acts in processes related to reproduction, childbirth and lactation.
It is actually a very small molecule that is produced in the central nervous system, specifically in the area of the hypothalamus, from there it is transported to the pituitary gland, where it is accumulated and released when necessary.
Regarding synthetic oxytocin, it belongs to a class of drugs called oxytocic hormones. It is often used as an injection to improve contractions during labor or to reduce bleeding after delivery
how does oxytocin work?
Basically, oxytocin can work in two ways: as a hormone, when it travels through the blood to the area of the body where it has its effect, or it can act as a neurotransmitter, by stimulating other areas of the brain, triggering responses such as sexual arousal.
During labor, the body naturally secretes oxytocin, thus stimulating the receptors of the uterus to provoke and maintain contractions during labor, dilation of the cervix and delivery.
It is also key to breastfeeding, being responsible for milk ejection, and without oxytocin it would not be possible for breast milk to leave the mammary gland.
Its role in both female and male sexual responses and in the development of the emotional bond with the baby has led it to be considered the hormone of love.
what is oxytocin used for?
Undoubtedly, this hormone affects several facets of a woman’s life. It is released naturally in the body for the uterine contractions that occur during intercourse, for the distension of the uterus during childbirth and in response to nipple stimulation when the baby sucks on breast milk.
Speaking more about the magical moment of the birth of a new human being, this hormone is responsible for triggering contractions of the uterus, thus causing the baby to move through the birth canal and out.
In view of the importance of oxytocin, medical science has created its synthetic version to address some situations, which will be discussed below.
Used in labor induction
If it is necessary to accelerate the labor process, or in the event that the pregnant woman does not produce enough oxytocin, then it is necessary to use the artificial version of this hormone.
Under strict supervision of a health professional, it is administered as a solution intravenously or intramuscularly. Applied in this way, oxytocin produces rhythmic uterine contractions that are indistinguishable in frequency, intensity and duration from those observed during spontaneous labor.
Synthetic oxytocin is generally used when pregnancy extends beyond 41 weeks, in order to trigger the physiological processes of labor, thus artificially stimulating uterine contractions.
The drip of this hormone is also used during labor when uterine contractions, for some reason, stop, decrease in intensity or become irregular, of course, here medical judgment plays an important role.
It should always be used diluted in serum and the drip is controlled with an infusion pump, which administers exact amounts of drug, and usually starts with low doses, which are gradually increased until the uterine contractions become regular and effective
It is used to treat postpartum hemorrhage
This artificial hormone is also used in the last stage of labor. At this delicate moment, after the birth of the baby, the woman expels the placenta, which must come out complete and the uterus must contract firmly to avoid hemorrhage
Currently, the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Spanish Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics related to obstetric practice recommend directed delivery, because it reduces the possibility of postpartum hemorrhage by up to 60%.
This directed delivery consists of administering a dose of intravenous oxytocin at the moment the baby’s shoulders emerge from the birth canal and within one minute of birth.
what is the correct way to administer synthetic oxytocin?
Regarding its use to induce labor, health care professionals must discern in which cases induction is truly warranted.
Once labor has been induced, if adequate contraction dynamics have been obtained, there is no reason to continue giving oxytocin, since labor will continue successfully due to the action of endogenous oxytocin
Some studies show that by withdrawing the perfusion at 5 centimeters dilation, labor continues normally and complications associated with oxytocin use are minimized.
Oxytocin perfusion should always be started at the lowest possible dose, thus making labor longer but much safer.
Oxytocin takes about 40 minutes to generate detectable effects, so it is necessary to wait this time to check the effect it has caused before proceeding to increase the dose.
Side effects of oxytocin
Synthetic oxytocin is considered one of the eleven high-risk drugs, both by the American Medicines Association and by the Spanish Institute for the Safe Use of Medicines, so that “if it is used incorrectly there is a high probability of causing serious or even fatal damage in patients”.
The main adverse reactions of this drug are the following:
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Rapid heart rate
- Unusual bleeding
- Increased risk of uterine rupture
- Increased risk of fetal distress
The hormone of love in synthetic form can be very useful in labor, if administered under strict medical criteria.