Oxytocin (medication)

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This article is about the medication. For the natural peptide, see Oxytocin.
Not to be confused with Oxycontin.
Oxytocin with labels.png
Clinical data
Pronunciation /ˌɒksˈtsɪn/
Trade names Pitocin, Syntocinon, others
AHFS/Drugs.com Monograph
  • AU: A
Routes of
Intranasal, IV, IM
ATC code
Legal status
Legal status
Pharmacokinetic data
Protein binding 30%
Metabolism Liver and elsewhere (via oxytocinases)
Biological half-life 1–6 min (IV)
~2 h (intranasal)[1][2]
Excretion Biliary and kidney
CAS Number
PubChem CID
Chemical and physical data
Formula C43H66N12O12S2
Molar mass 1007.19 g/mol
3D model (Jmol)

Oxytocin, sold under the brand name Pitocin among others, is a medication made from the peptide oxytocin.[3][4] As a medication, it is used to cause contraction of the uterus in order to start labor, increase the speed of labor, and to stop bleeding following delivery. For this purpose, it is given by injection either into a muscle or into a vein.[3]

The use of oxytocin as a medication can result in excessive contraction of the uterus that can risk the health of the baby. Common side effects in the mother include nausea and a slow heart rate. Serious side effects include rupture of the uterus and with excessive dose, water intoxication. Allergic reactions including anaphylaxis may also occur.[3]

Oxytocin was discovered in 1952.[5] It is on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, the most effective and safe medicines needed in a health system.[6] As of 2014, the wholesale cost in the developing world is US$0.1–0.56 per dose.[7]

Medical uses[edit]


Oxytocin injection (synthetic) is contraindicated in any of the following conditions:[11]

Side effects[edit]

Oxytocin is relatively safe when used at recommended doses, and side effects are uncommon.[12] The following maternal events have been reported:[12]

Excessive dosage or long-term administration (over a period of 24 hours or longer) have been known to result in tetanic uterine contractions, uterine rupture, postpartum hemorrhage, and water intoxication, sometimes fatal.

During pregnancy, increased uterine motility has led to decreased heart rate, cardiac arrhythmia, seizures, brain damage, and death in the fetus or neonate:[12]

Certain learning and memory functions are impaired by centrally administered oxytocin.[13] Also, systemic oxytocin administration can impair memory retrieval in certain aversive memory tasks.[14] However, oxytocin does seem to facilitate learning and memory specifically for social information. Healthy males administered intranasal oxytocin show improved memory for human faces, in particular happy faces.[15][16]


Routes of administration[edit]

A bag of oxytocin for intravenous infusion

1 IU of oxytocin is the equivalent of about 2 μg or mcg of pure peptide.


Its uterine-contracting properties were discovered by British pharmacologist Sir Henry Hallett Dale in 1906.[22] And its milk ejection property was described by Ott and Scott in 1910[23] and by Schafer and Mackenzie in 1911.[24]

Oxytocin became the first polypeptide hormone to be sequenced[25] or synthesized.[26][27] Du Vigneaud was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1955 for his work.[28]


The word oxytocin was coined from the term oxytocic. Greek ὀξύς, oxys, and τόκος, tokos, meaning "quick birth").

Society and culture[edit]


Oxytocin is not scheduled as a narcotic.[citation needed]


Oxytocin is a lucrative market, various companies have marketed oxytocin sprays for insufflation or as pheromone body sprays (albeit oxytocin is not absorbed through the skin).[citation needed] In fact, some of these products do not contain any oxytocin at all.[citation needed]


The trust-inducing property of oxytocin might help those with social anxiety and depression,[29] anxiety, fear, and social dysfunctions, such as generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder, as well as autism and schizophrenia, among others.[30][31] However, in one meta-analysis only autism spectrum disorder showed a significant combined effect size.[32]

People using oxytocin show improved recognition for positive social cues over threatening social cues [33][34] and improved recognition of fear.[35] However, oxytocin has also the potential for being abused in confidence tricks.[36]


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  2. ^ a b Huffmeijer R, Alink LR, Tops M, Grewen KM, Light KC, Bakermans-Kranenburg MJ, Ijzendoorn MH (2012). "Salivary levels of oxytocin remain elevated for more than two hours after intranasal oxytocin administration". Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 33 (1): 21–5. PMID 22467107. 
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