The active ingredient oxytocin is a hormone that is produced in the brain, more precisely by the hypothalamus.
It occurs naturally in the body of mammals and plays a role, among other things, in bonding, orgasms, maternal bonding, group behavior, and fear. Medically, the hormone is only officially used in connection with pregnancy and childbirth.
This is how oxytocin works
The hormone oxytocin is formed and produced by the pituitary gland. It works in both the brain and the rest of the body, where it reaches through the blood system.
According to scientific studies, oxytocin causes, among other things, sexual arousal, attachment behavior, and (after birth) maternal care for the newborn in the brain.
When released into the bloodstream, oxytocin has a number of effects that are often related to childbirth. Contractions of the uterine muscles are triggered during labor.
To start a delayed labor or to intensify labor contractions that are too weak, the hormone can be given as medicine.
After birth, oxytocin prevents increased bleeding and promotes the shedding of the placenta from the uterus. During lactation, it contracts the mammary glands to ensure that the milk is transported to the breasts.
Also, oxytocin, especially in high doses, can reduce the amount of urine. Because the hormone breaks down very quickly, this effect is of little importance in practice.
The time when the original amount of hormones is halved and therefore inactivated is approximately three to twenty minutes.
When is oxytocin used?
The active ingredient oxytocin is approved for use in pregnant women to start labor and during labor to strengthen or stimulate contractions. After birth, the hormone is given to prevent bleeding (bleeding prophylaxis) and speed up delivery of the placenta.
Outside of officially approved application areas, oxytocin is sometimes given for autism or other behavioral disorders.
Duration of use
Within the approved fields of application, oxytocin is only used for a short period of a few minutes to hours. Depending on the doctor’s prescription, the application can also take place over a longer period.
This is how oxytocin is used
Oxytocin is administered mainly as an infusion. Because the active ingredient is inactivated so quickly in the body (especially in pregnant women), a constant dose is necessary to maintain the effect.
Oxytocin circulating in the blood cannot enter the brain because it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
An oxytocin nasal spray is especially used outside of approved application areas, as it is more practical than an infusion, especially when used multiple times a day for long periods.
Unlike an infusion, an oxytocin spray can introduce some of the hormone into the brain.
What are the side effects?
The common side effects of oxytocin (side effects that occur in every 10th to 100th patient) are too fast or too slow heartbeat, increased blood pressure, headache, nausea, and vomiting.
Occasionally (in every hundredth to a thousand patients) allergic reactions and permanent contractions of the uterus occur.
What should be considered when using oxytocin?
Since the active ingredient is a natural hormone, interactions with other drugs rarely occur. Above all, there are medications that cause a prolongation of the QT interval, that is, a special form of change in heart rhythm.
These include some antidepressants (amitriptyline, venlafaxine, sertraline), asthma medications (salbutamol, terbutaline), antibiotics (erythromycin, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin), and antifungal agents (fluconazole, ketoconazole).
Prostaglandins should not be administered prior to oxytocin administration, otherwise, the uterine muscles will react much more strongly to the active ingredient.
Caution should be used when using medications that affect blood pressure (such as medications for hypertension).
The approved application area only includes pregnant women and women immediately after birth. How great the benefits and risks of using the hormone are in children and adults with mental illness has not yet been sufficiently clarified.
How to get medications with the hormone
The active ingredient, oxytocin, is usually used by the doctor himself (usually as an infusion).
The nasal spray as a finished medicine can be made as an individual prescription in the pharmacy, but only after a doctor’s prescription.
How long has it been known?
The hormone was discovered at the beginning of the last century. In 1906, its effects on the uterus were first described by British biochemist Henry Hallett Dale.
The hormone received its name (from the Greek “okytokos”: light carrier) in 1927. The structural structure of the hormone was only deciphered in 1953, which was the basis for the production of the active substance in relevant quantities.
Oxytocin was the first polypeptide hormone to be produced synthetically.