What are prostaglandins and what are they used for?

What are prostaglandins

Prostaglandins are aliphatic compounds found in the tissues of mammals and other organisms that have strong biological properties.

In the obstetric field they intervene in the initiation of contractions and therefore are also used in the form of a drug to provoke or induce childbirth.

Read on to learn more about prostaglandins, their function in the reproductive system, their role in inflammation, and other conditions.


Prostaglandins are compounds found in our body. They consist of fats, have hormone-like effects, affect reproductive processes, and are also believed to play an important role in resolving inflammation.

While most hormones are released from a gland and then transported throughout the body into the bloodstream, prostaglandins are produced in the area of the body where they are needed.

Prostaglandins and the female reproductive system

During the menstrual cycle, prostaglandins activate the contraction of the muscles of the uterus. These contractions help expel the lining of the uterus.

High levels of prostaglandins can cause menstrual cramps and contractions that can constrict the blood vessels around the uterus.

When pregnant women begin labor, prostaglandins help dilate the cervix and cause contractions.

Synthetic prostaglandins

Synthetic prostaglandins are used in induced childbirth: they are applied manually vaginally or administered orally or sublingually.

They are able to mature the uterine neck, softening and smoothing it, to allow it to dilate easily.

Synthetic prostaglandins are also used for:

  • control excessive bleeding after childbirth;
  • manage patent ductus arteriosus, a condition in which the blood vessel connecting the pulmonary artery and aorta does not close as it usually does shortly after birth;
  • terminate a pregnancy;

Prostaglandins and the male reproductive system

Prostaglandins are also used in intracavernous injections to help men with erectile dysfunction.

Aprostadil (trade name: Caverject ®) is the most widely used drug for intracavernous injections.

Prostaglandins and inflammation

Prostaglandins are considered the main chemical mediators during inflammation.

They play a key role in inflammation by contributing to the development of redness, swelling, warmth and pain.

Excessive prostaglandin production due to inflammation can cause or favor the onset of arthritis, painful menstrual cramps, heavy menstrual bleeding.

Prostaglandins and other conditions

If your body doesn’t produce enough prostaglandins, your doctor may consider giving prostaglandins to treat stomach ulcers, glaucoma, and congenital heart disease in infants.

Prostaglandin analogues

Pharmaceutical companies produce a number of drugs that act on prostaglandins:

  • Bimatoprost – It works by lowering the pressure in the eye by increasing the removal of fluids from its interior.
  • Carboprost – It is a natural F2α prostaglandin that stimulates myometrial contractions of the pregnant uterus.
  • Dinoprostone – Promotes dilation of the part of the birth canal known as the cervix, to allow the baby to pass through.
  • Misoprostol – It has a variety of uses, including to prevent gastric ulcers, to induce labor and even to induce abortion. Doctors may also prescribe it to reduce postpartum bleeding.
  • Latanoprost – It works by reducing the pressure in the eye, increasing the drainage of fluids from the inside.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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