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DES Exposure

Overview :

In the 1950s and early 1960s, several drug companies claimed that DES (diethylstilbestrol) could prevent miscarriages. DES is a synthetic hormone, related to estrogen. Since up to 20% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, this seemed like an important breakthrough and DES was prescribed for many women who had bleeding in early pregnancy. Ultimately, it was found to have no effect on miscarriages and the practice of prescribing DES was stopped in the 1960s. Almost 10 years later, the daughters of women who had taken DES during pregnancy began to develop unusual symptoms.

Doctors discovered that when these young women reached their teens, they were at higher risk for a variety of problems, including:

  • clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina and cervix
  • infertility
  • premature labor and other problems in pregnancy

It is estimated that five to 10 million people in the United States were exposed to DES between 1938 and 1971.

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