Asthma and Pregnancy

Although asthma is one of the most common medical conditions that occurs during pregnancy, it can be quite serious. Asthma can cause the airways to become narrow from swelling, as well as produce excess mucus, both of which make breathing difficult and can lead to wheezing, cough, and feeling short of breath. Approximately 30 percent of women with asthma report that their condition worsened with pregnancy.

The severity of asthma can vary: it can be very mild and barely noticeable, or it can be a major issue that interferes with everyday life, and even be life-threatening. There is no cure for asthma, and certain factors can exacerbate it, including pregnancy. During pregnancy, asthma can affect not only your health, but also that of your fetus, which makes controlling the condition especially important.

Asthma Signs And Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of asthma can vary, and some individuals might have some symptoms, while others might have different symptoms. The most common symptom is wheezing, or a sort of whistling sound with breathing. Other symptoms of asthma can include:

  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleep disturbances because of coughing or trouble breathing

Sometimes asthma symptoms or attacks can be triggered by elements like allergens (pollen, dust, pet dander), exercise, illness, or weather changes.

Asthma is diagnosed by an allergist through taking a medical history and doing some lung function tests.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma During Pregnancy

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), one-third of pregnant women will experience worsening of asthma symptoms during their pregnancy, one-third will see their symptoms lessen during pregnancy, and the remaining third won’t notice any change in their asthma symptoms.

The causes behind these changes are not fully known. If you experience any changes in asthma symptoms during pregnancy, they usually return to your typical pre-pregnancy condition about three months after giving birth.

Pregnancy can typically cause shortness of breath for anyone, but for an individual with asthma, this can become markedly worse.

Treatment During Pregnancy

Tell your obstetrician or midwife about your asthma, and see your allergist or asthma care provider as needed. Your lungs should be monitored during pregnancy so that your treatment can be altered if necessary.

Avoid known asthma triggers to minimize asthma symptoms or attacks. If you can, try to avoid individuals who are sick or who have respiratory ailments, avoid or minimize exposure to cigarette smoke, and try to exercise regularly.

Minimizing triggers also allows you to use smaller doses of medication when needed because your exposure is reduced.

The main goal in treating asthma during pregnancy is to make sure the asthma is well-controlled, and treating the mother if needed. There are medications that can be used during pregnancy, and some are preferred over others. Uncontrolled asthma can be more dangerous than medicine to both mom and baby. Medications that are commonly used include:

  • Inhaled bronchodilators, typically short-acting
  • Anti-leukotriene drugs, such as Singulair (montelukast)
  • Some inhaled corticosteroids

Your doctor will determine which medication is best for you, based on your medical condition, history, and the severity of symptoms. Other drugs, like Advair, which is a longer-acting drug, or oral steroids, might be necessary if the asthma cannot be controlled with other medications.

Complications

If asthma is uncontrolled or not well-controlled during pregnancy, it can adversely affect your health and your baby’s health. Asthma can reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood. When this happens, this can also cause reduced oxygen in your baby’s blood, causing complications or impairment to growth and breathing. Complications that might arise from uncontrolled asthma can include:

While most women with asthma do not have any symptoms during labor and birth, approximately 10 percent will have asthma symptoms at this time. Take your usual medications, and tell your doctor or midwife about your symptoms so they can monitor them and help provide you with some relief.

Asthma during pregnancy doesn’t have to negatively affect your life or health. If you have asthma and are thinking about having a baby, talk with your gynecologist and your allergist about things you should keep in mind, and how pregnancy might affect your asthma symptoms.

Take steps to get your asthma under control prior to pregnancy, and when you get pregnant, see your doctors regularly to monitor symptoms and ensure your asthma is well-managed. Taking steps ahead of time and keeping abreast with any changes in symptoms can help make your pregnancy with asthma go as smoothly as possible.

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